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Vol. 105, No. 1, January 1996 

Cover: A male red-knobbed hombill, 
native to the Indonesian island of 
Sulawesi, holds a fig in its beak. Story on 
page 40. Photograph by Tiii de Roy. 

4 Letters 

6 Up Front 

Famine's Ghost 

8 Authors 

10 This View of Life 

Stephen Jay Gould 
Triumph of the Root-Heads 

18 At the American Museum 
of Natural History 

Tung F. Cheng 
Museum on Wheels 

20 A Matter of Taste 

Rohh Walsh 
Seeking the Trujfe 


The Leaf That Launched 
a Thousand Ships 

Douglas C. Daly 

One hundred fifty years ago, a fungal 
disease of potatoes reached Ireland, 
precipitating a devastating famine. Before 
the "Great Hunger" was over, a million 
had died, and a million and a half had 

31 The Blight Is Back 


How PoHtics 
Fed the Famine 

Christine Kinealy 

While Britain measured its response, 
Ireland staiyed. 


The Voyage 
of the Beetle 

Wenhua Lu and James Lazell 

How an innocuous, weed-eating insect 
became the scourge of potatoes. 


Hombill Haven 

Margaret F. Kinnaird 

On the slopes of a volcano, wild fig trees 
support a threatened bird. 

43 Hornbills and Native 


The Green Turtle's 

Te.xt and photographs by Charles Lindsay 

On Bali, myriad tivditional festivals 
require the offering of an animal's life. 

Daniel Stiles 
Lamu Island, Kenya 

57 Celestial Events 
Joe Rao 

Bright Orion 

58 This Land 

Robert H. Mohlenbrock 
Haleakala, Maui, Hawaii 

61 Field Guide 
Travel and Reading 

62 The Living Museum 

Henry S. F. Cooper, Jr 

Peter Moller and His Talking Fish 

66 Universe 

Neil de Grasse Tyson 
On Being Dense 

70 An Interactive New Year 
David McDonough 

72 The Depths Illuminated 
Cinch Lee Van Dover 

74 The Natural Moment 

Photograph by Michael and 
Patricia Fogden 
Polliwo2 Portage 

76 Science Lite 

Roger L. Welsch 
Open-and-Shut Case 


A Term of Endearment 

Having grown up in the Aliwal North 
area of South Africa, I found John 
Phillips's article about leguaans (or "likke- 
wane," as we called them) most interest- 
ing ("Rhythms of a Desert Lizard," Octo- 
ber 1995). Let me, however, correct one 
thing, lest Americans think that Afrikan- 
ers were harsh in nicknaming Englishman 
Brown "Gogga." The word does not trans- 
late into "vermin," as indicated by 
Phillips. It simply means "bug" or "insect" 
and is very much a term of endearment, 
quite often used by parents in addressing 
their offspring — much in the way we 
might use "pumpkin" here in the States. 


New Canaan, Connecticut 

On the Side of the Angels 

Stephen Jay Gould (who, as far as I am 
concemed, can write no wrong) may have 
made a slight editorial error when dis- 
cussing the irony of "logically fallacious 
and morally dubious claims" being ad- 
vanced by "decent folks" in "support of 
good arguments" ("This View of Life," 
November 1995). Gould writes that al- 
though Huxley used such claims, he nev- 
ertheless "stood on the side of the angels" 
in trying to document the continuity of 
human beings with the "lower" primates. 

There is a double irony here (which 
Gould may well have intended), for that 
figure of speech is said to have originated 
as a disclaimer of any 
human relationship to 
the apes. The statesman 
Benjamin Disraeli, in an 
address to the Oxford 
Diocesan Conference on 
November 25, 1864, 
asked rhetorically: "Is 
man an ape or an angel? 
I, my lord, am on the side 
of the angels. I repudiate 
with indignation and ab- 
horrence those newfan- 
gled theories." 


La Jolla, California 

Not the One and Only 
With reference to 
Melvin Van Peebles's re- 
view of the Margaret 
Mead Film Festival 

("Rascals, Survivors, Dreamers," October 
1995), I would like to point out that the 
Mead event is not the only anthropological 
film festival in the United States, as stated 
in the article. The Society for Visual An- 
thropology's Film and Video Festival cel- 
ebrated its tenth anniversaiy in Washing- 
ton, D.C., this past November. The festival 
is held annually at the meetings of the 
American Anthropological Association. 

Najwa Adra 
Westbury, New York 

Quarantine Remembered 

I appreciated Pascal Imperato's book re- 
view of Hives of Sickness ("Pathogens 
New and Old," November 1995). My fa- 
ther, Charles Reed, was one of the chil- 
dren with polio in the 1916 epidemic. No 
one in his small town in Kentucky knew 
what to do for him, and at age nine he was 
sent to live in a hospital in Saint Louis, 
where he remained for two years. Bed rest 
and electric shock to the legs were the only 
treatments available. 

When my father was finally considered 
"well," he was sent home on crutches, tak- 
ing with him the diphtheria and scarlet 
fever that he had caught in the hospital. He 
infected his parents and all his brothers 
and sisters. No one would come into the 
quarantined house. Groceries were left at 
the door. My father put laundry on the 
porch to be boiled, and when his baby sis- 
ter died, he had to put her outside, too. The 

Polio epidemic. New York 1916 

From A Summer Plague: Polio and Its Survivors, by Tony Gould, Yale University Press. Range/Betlmann: UPI 

undertaker, fearful of what had no cure, 
came only when the body was frozen. 

Today, with antibiotics and immuniza- 
tions, most families have the miracle of all 
their children living to adulthood. A look 
back, as in a book like this, is a smart step 
before looking forward to our new chal- 
lenges in health care. 

Fran Reed 
Hoboken, New Jersey 

Blood Relations 

Bill Amos's article "Blood Relations" 
(November 1995) was informative and 
sensitive. I have long felt torn between the 
desire to see various animals protected and 
the knowledge that people must often 
make use of these animals for their own 
survival. Thus, I understand the impor- 
tance of the whale hunts to the Faeroese. 

However, if it is true that pilot whale 
pods represent single families, then the 
grind method is particularly disturbing, 
since it wipes out a whole family and its 
genes at once. 

Allison L. C. de Cerreno 
Broitxville, New York 

Ecosystems Elucidated 

Jessica Maxwell's article "Swimming 
with Salmon" (September 1995) captured 
the many nuances of the salmon problems 
in the Pacific Northwest. As an environ- 
mental manager aiming to understand 
how oceanic and atmospheric changes af- 
fect our coastal ecosys- 
tems, I have referred 
many people, scientists 
and lay readers alike, to 
the article for its clear 
description of compli- 
cated questions. The 
photographs by Natalie 
Fobes were also superb. 
The one of the bald eagle 
eating the dead salmon 
raised at least one more 
question: what happens 
in coastal watersheds 
now that salmon are 
scarce and their car- 
casses are no longer re- 
turned to the food web? 
Robert Bailey 
Oregon Coastal 
Management Program 
Portland, Oregon 



4 Natural History 1/96 


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American Museum of Natural History 

Family Adventures 

Wildlife of the 


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V ront 

Famine's Ghost 

In Ireland, people still talk of the ■"hungn" grass.'" the sod that 
covers the forgotten \ictims of the Great Potato Famine of 150 
years ago. Those \\ ho tread on this grass are supposed to feel 
the wrenching hunger of those who perished. In rough, remote 
places, ripples in the ground betray ov'ererown "lazy beds.'' 
where the poorest of the poor h\ed by coaxing lumper potatoes 
to grow in ston_\" little fields, some on steep slopes that came to 
a sudden halt at sea chffs. Farmers stUl know the whereabouts 
of ""scalps." the crude shelters built into ditches where 

A special section on the Great Irish Famine, with articles by 
Douglas C. Daly and Christine Kinealy, begins on page 24. 

thousands tried to survive after being tumed out of their homes 
and fields for nonpayment of rent 

Then there are the famine pits. Many, if not most, of the 
towns in western Ireland resorted to burv"ing their dead in mass 
graves during the famine. Some were consecrated long 
aftervv ard. but most remain unmarked. At times they are 
unearthed by researchers or b_v the elements. Near Louisburgh 
in Counrv Mayo, the sea often pulls out the bones of the manv- 
famine dead v\ ho had been simplv- covered vv ith stones at an 
ancient monastic settlement near the shore. 

These reminders, plus innumerable family histories, have 
bred an intimacy with suffering and a compulsion to help 
reheve it. "Deeply rooted in the Irish psyche is the memory of 
the famine." says Don MuUan. former director of the advocacy 
group Action from Ireland. ■■A\'hen we look at pictures of 

people starving, we know we are looking at ourselves just a few 
short generations ago." 

Mullan has urged people to use the sesquicentennial of 
Ireland's Great Hunger not as a convenient excuse for self-pity 
or blame but rather as a chance to see paraOels in the present 
and to intermpt the march toward avoidable famine in today's 
poor countries. Xineteenth-centun' scientists eventuaUv- agreed 
that the fungus Phytophthora infestans caused the late blight of 
the potato in Ireland, but it was injustice that caused the famine. 
MuUan says bluntlv'. "If we really care about those w ho died, 
we must be concerned about those who hunger today." 

The prohfic and nutritious potato reboimded from the late 
blight that struck a centurv' and a half ago. and once again 
milhons of poor people in many countries depend heavily on it. 
But the potato is so problem-prone that it requires the 
application of more pesticides and fungicides than does any 
other food crop. In the developing world, which can least afford 
it. more than S300 million is spent annuallv on spraying 
potatoes. The ver>' success of the fungicide metalaxyl in 
controlling late blight may have hindered research on the 
development of potato varieties naturallv" resistant to the 

Again a narrow economic and genetic base is being 
decimated bv' late bUght. ITie fungus, which never w ent away, 
has resurged with a vengeance in new metalaxyl-resistant 
forms that threaten to cause not only economic hardship but 
also hunger once again. In financial terms, the damage is being 
calculated in the hundreds of millions of dollars: the amount of 
suffering in poor countries will depend as much on the 
virulence of unfairness as on the virulence of the disease. 

Doiielas C. Dah 

Sheep anddryirt^pciJi. Ci'i.i.ti'.u-d. la. 
6 N.ATL'R.-U- History 1/96 

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The B. A. Kmkoff Curator of 
.-Vmazonian Botany at the New York 
Botanical Garden. Douglas C. Daly 
[ "The Leaf That Launched a Thousand 
Ships" ( first became interested in the 
Great Irish Famine \\ hen he learned 
about the culprit, a potato fungus, in an 
undergraduate mycology course at 
Hanard. As his curatorial tide suggests, 
he has since become a speciahst in the 
botany of .Amazonian .America, but he 
has also done fieldwork in the Caribbean 
and in the rain forests of Australia. 

English-bom historian Christine 
Kinealy ("How Pohtics Fed the Famine") 
is the descendant of Irish immigrants. A 
feUow at the Universit}' of Liverpool, she 
was educated at Trinit\" College. Dublin. 
Her work on Ireland's Great Famine arose 
out of an interest in how go\emments 
respond to their poor, and her first booL 
This Great Calamity: Tlie Irish Famine 
1845-52 (Boulder. Roberts Rinehart 
1995t. concentrates on the British 
government's response to the disaster 
She is currendy researching international 
aid to Ireland durina the famine. 

Margaret F. Kinnaird r"Indonesia's 
Hombill Ha\"en") has studied manatees in 
Florida, birds in the Galapagos and 
Kenya, and birds and primates in 
Indonesia. A conservation ecologist for 
the Vvildlife Conser\"ation Society since 
1990. she is now smd\Tng the effects of 
forest fragmentation on birds and 
mammals on Indonesian islands and is 
woiiing on a book about the natural 
history of Sulawesi. 

Photographer-vsTiter Charles Lindsay 
("The Green Turtles Sacrifice") is a San 
Francisco nati\e who has recently moved 
to New York Cm: but whose work takes 
him to remote destinations. His most 
recent work involves emironmental 
subjects in Indonesia. India, and 
elsewhere in .Asia, and he has "specific 
curiosit}" and concem about that point 
where cultures deal with nature." One 
result is Turtle Islands: Balinese Ritual 
and the Green Turtle, written in collabo- 
ration with Lyall Watson and published in 
December 1995 by Takarajima Books. 

Wenhua Lu and James "Skip" LazeU 
("\b}"age of the Beetle") are a husband- 
and-wife team of naturahsts v.ho spend 
much of their time in South China, the 
West Indies, the East Indies, and the 
Hav.aiian Islands. Lu. a nati%"e of 
Guangzhou. China. recei\'ed her iNI.S. in 
entomolog}' from South China 
-Agricultural L'iii\-er5it}' and her doctorate 
from the Universit}' of Rhode Island. Her 
major research concerns the evolution 
and biogeography of beedes. Lazelle. 
president of the Conser.'ation .Agenc}\ a 
wildlife rese : . / ..uiization. also 
eamed his d^viLTa'-e from the L'ni\"ersit\" 
of Rhode Island. .A biogeographer and 
evolutionary biologist, he is on the staff" 
of the department of herpetolog}' at 
Harvard's Museum of Comparative 
Zoology and is also a staff mammalogist 
at Yale's Peabody Museum. For further 
reading, they recommend Potato Beetles. 
by Richard L. Jacques, Jr. (Gaines\T]le: 
SandhiU Crane. 1988). 

A \"ear ago this month, astrophysicist 
\eO de Grasse Tyson inaugurated his 
monthly "Universe" essays with a 
description of one of his many visits to 
Chile's Cerro Tololo Observatorv' (where 
he is pictured below i. Bom and raised in 
New York Cit\^ and educated in its pubhc 
schools. Tyson has been hooked on the 
universe since the skth grade, when he 
looked at the moon through a pair of 
binoculars. Now acting director of the 
.American Museum-Hayden Planetarium 
and a research 
scientist at 
Princeton. Tyson 
describes his 
main research 
interests as "star 
formation in 
dwarf gala-xies. 
supernovas, and 
the chemical 
evolution of the 
Milky ^^"a^-'s 
galactic bulge." 
T}"son spends his 
rare spare time 
enjo}ing such earthl}" pleasures as music 
iblues. Broadwa}'. and opera) and 
coUectins fine •^.ines. 

Michael and Patricia Fogden 
I "PoUiv, og Ponage" i eamed their Ph.D.'s 
in zoolog}" from O.xford Universit}.' and 
London University, respectively. 
Beginning in 1968. they started working 
togedier in the field on a nimiber of 
scientific programs, first in Uganda and 
then Mexico. In I °^^ the}" resigned their 
positions to be^onic freelance 
photographers and writers, specializing in 
natural history. .Although most of their 
photography (like this month's "iS^atural 
Moment") has captured life in New 
World rain forests, the Fogdens ha\'e been 
working increasingly in deserts. They are 
jtost back from several months in Namibia 
and South .Africa, w here the}' have been 
photographing elephants, ihinos, and the 
spectacular flowering of desert plants 
after rains. 

8 NAiDRiiiL History 1/96 

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riumph of the Root-Heads 

We undervalue an organism — and misread evolution — when we consider only adult anatomy 

by Stephen Joy Gould 

I am not much of a betting man. For me, 
a Man o' War is an old British fighting 
ship, and a Native Dancer inhabits Tahiti, 
wears grass skirts, and gyrates on the 
beach for Fletcher Christian and Captain 
Bhgh in various Hollywood versions of 
Mutiny on the Bounty. Nonetheless, if I 
had to put up or shut up, I would make an 
unconventional wager on the controver- 
sial subject of progress in evolution. 

In our culture's focal misunderstanding 
of evolution, most people assume that 
trends to increasing complexity through 
time must impart a primary and pre- 
dictable direction to the history of life. But 
Darwinian natural selection only yields 
adaptation to changing local environ- 
ments, and better function in an immediate 
habitat might just as well be achieved by 
greater simphcity in form and behavior as 
by ever increasing complexity. Thus, one 
might predict that cases of evolutionary 
simplification will be just about as com- 
mon as increases in complexity. 

But I would be tempted to bet on cul- 
ture "s underdog and to suspect that cases 
of simplification might actually hold a 
smaU, overall edge. I hazard this uncon- 
ventional proposition because a common 
life style assumed by tens to hundreds of 
thousands of animal species — namely, 
parasitism — usually involves evolutionary 
simplification of adult form in comparison 
with free-living ancestors. Since I know of 
no comparable phenomenon that could 
supply a countervailing bias for complex- 
ity, a compendium of all cases might pro- 
duce a majority for simplification — as nat- 
ural selection in free-living forms imparts 
no bias in either direction, while para- 
sitism gives a clear edge to simphfication. 

I regard this argument as impeccable — 
in its own restricted way. But nature 
scorns sach crimping limits imposed by 
frailties of human cognition upon her 
wonderful and multifarious variety. This 
argument about parasites works only 


Yves Delage's original figure of a root- 
head J<:entwgon, or "dart lan'a'' 
injecting precursors of its adult stage into 
tlie body of a crab. 

Archives de Zoologie Experimentale. 
Deuxieme Serie. Tome II, 1884 

under the aegis of another bias almost as 
serious as our equation of evolution with 
progress: our prejudice for regarding adult 
anatomy as the organism, and our failure 
to consider entire life cycles and complex- 
ities of physiological function. 

Consider one of the standard laments, 
or stories of wonder, in conventional tales 

Stephen Jay Gould teaches biology, geol- 
ogy, and tl}e history of science atHanwd 
University. He is also Fredericic P. Rose 
Honoraiy Curator in Invertebrates at tlie 
American Museum of Natural Histon'- 

of natural history — the mayfly that Uves 
but a single day (a sadness even recorded 
in the technical name of its biological 
group — the Ephemoptera). Yes, the adult 
fly may enjoy only one moment in the sun, 
but we should recognize that the larvae, or 
juvenile stages, live and develop for 
months. Larvae are not mere preparations 
for a brief adulthood. We might better read 
the entire life cycle as a division of labor, 
with larvae as feeding and growing stages, 
and the adult as a short-lived reproductive 
machine. In this sense, we could well view 
the adult fly's day as the larva's clever and 
transient device for making a new genera- 
tion of truly fundamental feeders — the in- 
sect equivalent of Butler's famous quip 
that "a hen is only an egg's way of making 
another egg." 

This essay treats the most celebrated 
story of extreme simplification in an adult 
parasite — in the interests of illuminating, 
reconciling, and perhaps even resolving 
two major biases that have so hindered our 
understanding of namral history: the mis- 
equation of evolution with progress, and 
the undervaluing of an organism by con- 
sidering only its adult form and not the en- 
tire life cycle. 

The adult of Sacculina. the standard 
representative of a larger group of some 
200 species, the Rhizocephala, could 
hardly be more different from its bamacle 
ancestors — or more simplified in anatomy 
and appearance. The two names accu- 
rately record this dramatic evolutionary 
change — for Sacculina is a Latin "httle 
sac," while Rhizocephala is a Greek "root- 
head." As we shall see, the rhizocephalans 
are clearly barnacles by ancestry, but the 
adult preserves not a hint of this crus- 
tacean past. Rhizocephalans are parasites 
upon other crustaceans, and nearly all in- 
fest decapods (crabs and their relatives). 
The adult consists of two parts with names 
that (in a refreshing change from usual 
practice) almost count as vernacular, 



10 Natural History 1/96 

rather than jargon. From the outside, a 
human observer sees only a formless sac 
(called the externa) attached to the under- 
side of the crab's abdomen. The sac is lit- 
tle more than a reproductive device, con- 
taining the ovary and a passageway for the 
introduction of males and their sperm. The 
externa contains no other differentiated 
parts — no appendages, no sense organs, 
no digestive tract, and no sign of segmen- 
tation at all. The fertilized eggs develop 
within the externa (which then operates as 
a brood pouch). 

But how can the extema function with- 
out any evident source of nutrition? Closer 
examination reveals a stalk that pierces the 
crab's abdomen and connects the extema 
to an elaborate network of roots (called the 
interna). These roots may pervade the en- 
tire body of the crab. They penetrate 
through the hemocoelic spaces (the 
analogs of blood vessels) and infest many 
of the crab's internal organs. They provide 
nutrition to the parasite by absorption 
from the crab's vital fluids. In some spe- 
cies, roots are restricted to the abdomen, 
but in Sacciilina they may run through the 
entire body, right to the ends of the ap- 
pendages. (This system is not so grisly — 
in inappropriate human terms — as first 
glance might suggest. The parasite does 
not devour the host but rather maintains 
the crab as a life support system.) The 
name SaccuUna (for the most common 
genus) honors the extema, while the des- 
ignation of the entire group — Rhizo- 
cephala, or root-head — recognizes the in- 

These barnacle parasites have been 
known to zoologists since the 1780s (al- 
though the first recorder, correctly observ- 
ing the release of crustacean larvae from 
the extema, misinterpreted the sac as an 
organ of the crab, induced by the parasite 
much as some insect larvae can comman- 
deer a plant to grow a protective gall). 
Ever since this early discovery, rhizo- 
cephalans have played a classic role in nat- 
ural history as the standard example of 
maximal degeneration in parasites. Many 
of the foremost zoologists of Darwin's 
generation highlighted Sacciilina as one of 
evolution's primary mai'vels. 

The German biologist Fritz Miiller 
wrote a famous book in 1864 that pro- 
vided Darwin with crucial early support. 

Miiller's book deals almost entirely with 
the anatomy of crustaceans, but bears the 
general title Fiir Dai-win (For Darwin). 
Miiller cited Sacciilina. and its undoubted 
relationship with free-living barnacles, as 
a primary example of "retrogressive meta- 
morphosis" in evolution. He referred to 
this genus as "these ne plus ultras in the 
series of retrogressively metamorphosed 
Crustacea," and he wrote of their limited 

The only manifestations of life which per- 
sist ... are powerful contractions of the 
roots and an alternate expansion and con- 
traction of the body, in consequence of 
which water flows into the brood-cavity, 
and is again expelled through a wide orifice. 

Sir Edwin Ray Lankester (1847-1929), 
later director of the Natural History Divi- 
sion of the British Museum, published a 
famous essay in 1880 entitled Degenera- 

E. Ray Lankester s figure of the 

"degenerate" adult Sacculina, showing 

the externa (sac) and interna (roots). 

From Degeneration: A Chapter in Darwinism 
{London: Macmillan and Co-. 1880) 

tion: A Chapter in Damnism. He defined 
degeneration as "a loss of organization 
making the descendant far simpler or 
lower in structure than its ancestor," and 
he used Sacciilina as a primaiy example. 
Lankester described the barnacle parasite 
as "a mere sac, absorbing nourishment and 
laying eggs." 

Yves^Delage (1854-1920), one of 

France's finest natural historians and a pa- 
triotic Lamarckian, pubhshed a major em- 
pirical smdy on Sacculina in 1884. He re- 
ferred to the genus as "this singular 
parasite, reduced to a sac containing the 
genital organs." "Sacculina." he added, 
"seems to be one of those beings made to 
chill adventurous imaginations" {fails 
pour refroidir les imaginations aven- 

Thus, all major authors and experts 
used the Rhizocephala as primary illustra- 
tions of degeneration in the evolution of 
parasites (or, at least, of simplification, if 
we wish to avoid the taint of moral oppro- 
brium). I will not challenge this assertion 
for a restricted view of the adult as an ex- 
ternal sac attached to internal roots. But I 
do wish to oppose the myopia of such a re- 
striction. From a properly expanded view- 
point — and for three major reasons that I 
shall discuss in sequence — rhizocephalans 
are remarkably intricate creatures, as 
bizarre in then elaborate uniquenesses as 
any creature on earth. In this expanded 
perspective, however, they remain as won- 
derfully provocative as ever — as superbly 
illustrative of the meaning of evolution as 
when Europe's greatest zoologists falsely 
appointed them to the role of chief exem- 
plar for Darwinian degeneration. 

1. The full life cycle of the Rhizocephala. 
How did we ever discern the bamacle an- 
cestry of Sacculina? We could now gain 
this information by sequencing DNA, but 
how did early-nineteenth-century zoolo- 
gists correctly identify the affinities of the 
rhizocephalans, when studies of the adult 
extema and interna could not provide the 
slightest clue? 

Observations of the complex life cycle 
in female rhizocephalans solved this zoo- 
logical puzzle. (1 shall discuss the growth 
of males later, as my third argument.) The 
first two phases differ very little from the 
ontogeny of ordinar)' barnacles, and tliere- 
fore seal the identification. The larvae exit 
from the extema's brood pouch as a con- 
ventional dispersal stage, common in 
many crustaceans, called the nauplius. 
The rhizocephalan nauplius passes 
through as many as four instars (molting 
stages) and. except for the absence of all 
feeding structures, looks like an ordinary 
crustacean nauplius, right down to the 




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most distinctive feature of a single median 


I am tr\ mg to suppress my' usual lateral 
excursions in this essay — if only because I 
find the main line of the story so excit- 
ing — but I cannot resist one digression for 
its striking illustration of science's human 
face. Yves Delage"s 1884 monograph on 
Sacculina. undoubtedh' the most impor- 
tant early study of rhizocephalans. runs to 
more than 300 pages of primarily dry 
anatomical description, devoted 
mainh- to these earl\- stages of the 
hfe cycle. But at se\eral points, he 
vents his anger at a German col- 
league. R. Kossmann. Delage took 
particular delight in exposing 
Kossmann 's error of identifying 
two larval eyes. Early in his mono- 
graph, this French patriot admits 
the source of his venom and con- 
sequent pleasure in Kossmann's 
mistakes. Kossmann had previ- 
ously skewered a Frenchman, a 
certain Monsieur Hesse, for his er- 
rors in interpreting the life cj'cle of 
Sacculina. Delage took offense for 
two reasons. First of all. poor 
Hesse was a dedicated amateur 
who only took up the study of ma- 
rine zoology in retirement, "at an 
age when so man\' others, in Ger- 
many as elsewhere, are only seek- 
ing to enjoy the inacti\ity of re- 
pose merited by their long 
ser\'ice."' Kossmann should have 
been more generous. But second, 
and impossible to forgive. Koss- 
mann had explicitly attacked 
Hesse as a Frenchman, in clear vi- 
olation of the norms of science as 
a cooperative and international en- 
terprise. Delage then speculated 
about Kossmanns motives and re- 
called his own bitter feelings at the defeat 
of his country in the Franco-Prussian War 
of 1870-71:' 

\\Tiat I cannot excuse is that this gentleman 
[Kossmann] expressed pleasure in seeing a 
scientist fall into error because that scientist 
is a Frenchman. This illustrates the work- 
ings of a narrow mind, and such thinking 
w ill quickly destroy the characteristic nobil- 
itv' of scientific discussion. But Mr. Koss- 
mann has an excuse. Note that he wrote in 
1872. at a moment when Germany was still 
tipsy from its recent military successes, and 
he just didn't have enough fortitude to resist 
the temptation to gi\'e the proxerbial kick in 
the rear to the defeated. 

The one-e\ed nauplius only identifies 
rhizocephalans as crustaceans, but the 
next phase, the c}prid lar\'a. is unique to 

14 Natltjal History 1/96 

barnacles and thus specifies the ancestry 
of the root-heads. If the nauplius acts as a 
waterbome dispersal phase, the subse- 
quent cyprid explores the substrate by 
crawling about on a pair of frontal ap- 
pendages called antennules. securing a 
good spot for attachment, and then secret- 
ing cement for permanent fastening. This 
cement fixes most barnacles to rocks, but 
some species attach to whales or mrtles. 
and one species sinks deep into whale skin 

The complex life cycle of a root-head: Recent 

experiments liave re\-ealed that the kentrogon injects the 

host crab with a motile, worm-shaped body that later 

splits up into se\-eral independently moving cells. 

Beth Beyertiolm: with permission from Nature, vol. 377, 14 September 1995. 
© Macmlllan Msgazines. Ltd. 

to live as a near parasite. Thus, we can eas- 
ily' envisage the evolutionary transitions 
from fastening to rock to external attach- 
ment upon another animal to intemal bur- 
row ing for protection and finally to true in- 
ternal parasitism. In any case, the 
rhizocephalan cyprid functions like its 
bamacle counterpart and searches for an 
appropriate site of attachment upon a crus- 
tacean host. (Favored sites xan' from spe- 
cies to species; some settle on the gills, 
others on the limbs.) 

We now reach the crux of the argument 
b\' encountering the curious uniquenesses 
of rhizocephalans as defined by newly 
evoh'ed stages in an intricate life cycle. 
How does the cyprid. now attached to an 
extemal part of the host, manage to get in- 

side the hosts body to become an adult 
root-head? The rhizocephalan life cycle 
proceeds from taxonomic generality to 
uniqueness. The initial nauphus identified 
the creature as a crustacean; the subse- 
quent cyprid illustrates bamacle affinities 
within the Cmstacea. The next phase be- 
longs to root-heads alone. 

The female cyprid. now attached to the 
host by its antennules. metamorphoses to a 
phase unique to the rhizocephalan life 
cycle, as discovered by Delage in 
1884 and named the kentrogon 
(meaning "dart larA'a'"). The ken- 
trogon is smaller and simpler than 
the cyprid, but develops one cru- 
cial and special organ — Delages 
"dart" (now generally called an in- 
jection stylet). The kentrogon's 
dart functions as a hypodermic 
needle to inject the precursors of 
the adult stage into the body of the 

This delivery system for the 
adult's primordium shows great 
diversity across the 200 or so spe- 
cies of rhizocephalans. In one 
group, the kentrogon cements its 
entire ventral surface to the host. 
The dart then pierces the host 
through this ventral surface, re- 
quiring a passage through three 
layers — the kentrogon's cuticle, 
the attaching cement, and the 
host's cuticle. In another group, 
the kentrogon's ventral surface 
does not cement, and antennules 
continue to function as attach- 
ments to the host. In these forms, 
including the genus Sacculina it- 
self, the injecting dart goes right 
through one of the antennules. and 
thence into the body of the host! A 
third group skips the kentrogon 
stage enrirely; the cyprid's antennule pen- 
etrates the host and transfers the primor- 
dial cells of file adult parasite. Yves De- 
lage. who discovered the kentrogon and its 
injecting device in 1884. was amazed. He 

All these facts are so remarkable, so unex- 
pected, so strange compared with anything 
known either in barnacles or anywhere in 
the entire animal kingdom, that readers will 
excuse me for providing such a thorough 
facmal documentation. 

But the next observation is more re- 
markable still — ^the highpoint (for me at 
least) of rhizocephalan oddity, and a near 
invitation to disbelief (if the data were not 
so firm). What constitutes the primordium 
of the adult parasite? What can be injected 


through the narrow opening of the dart's 
hypodermic device? 

Delage, who discovered the mecha- 
nism, concluded that several cells, main- 
taining some organization as precursors to 
different tissues of the adult, entered the 
host. He could hardly come to grips with 
the concept of this much reduction sepa- 
rating larval and adult life. Imagine going 
through such complexity as nauplius, 
cyprid, and kentrogon — and then paring 
yourself down to just a few cells in a quick 
and hazardous transition to the adult stage. 
What a minimal bridge at such a crucial 
transition! "The Sacculina" Delage 
wrote, "has been led to make something of 
a tabula rasa of its immediate past." De- 
lage then groped for analogies: 

All can be explained by the necessity for the 
parasite to make itself very small in order to 
pass more easily through the narrow canal, 
whose dimensions are set by the orifice of 
the dart. [The transferred cells] are in the 
same condition as an aeronaut, whose bal- 
loon has lost part of its gas, and who, need- 
ing to rise again at all cost, lightens his load 
by throwing out everything not absolutely 
indispensable to the integrity of his ma- 

Well, Monsieur Delage, the actual situ- 
ation is even more extreme than you 
thought. You were quite right: many spe- 
cies do transfer several cells through the 
dart. But other species have achieved the 
ultimate reduction to a single cell. The dart 
injects 7;/5f one cell into the host's interior, 
and the two parts of the life cycle maintain 
their indispensable continuity by an ab- 
solutely minimal connection — as though, 
within the rhizocephalan life cycle, nature 
has inserted a stage analogous to the fertil- 
ized egg that establishes minimal connec- 
tion between generations in ordinary sex- 
ual organisms. 

The evidence for transfer of a single cell 
in two species has been provided in recent 
articles by our leading contemporaiy stu- 
dent of rhizocephalans, Jens T. H0eg of 
the zoological institute of the University 
of Copenhagen. (I read about a dozen of 
H0eg's fascinating papers in preparing this 
essay, and thank him for so much infoima- 
tion and stimulation.) In a 1985 article on 
the species Lernaeodiscus porcellanae, 
published in Acta Zoologica, H0eg docu- 
mented the settlement of cyprids, fonna- 
tion of kentrogons, and injection of only a 
single cell, recognizable within the kentro- 
gon, into the host. H0eg writes of the ten- 
uous bridge within the kentrogon: "Be- 
cause of its size and apparent lack of 
specialization the invasion cell stands out 

conspicuously against the surrounding ep- 
ithelial, nerve and gland cells." 

I was inspired to write this essay by a 
report on an even more remarkable dis- 
covery in the September 14, 1995, issue of 
Nature: "A New Motile, Multicellular 
Stage Involved in Host Invasion by Para- 
sitic Barnacles (Rhizocephala)," by Hen- 
rik Glenner and Jens T. H0eg. The authors 
found that the kentrogon of Loxothylacus 
panopaei injects a previously unknown 
structure into the host: a wormlike body 
containing several cells enclosed in an 
acellular sheath. This "worm" breaks up 
within the host's body, and the individual 
cells, about twenty-five in number, then 
disperse separately "by alternating flexure 
and rotating movements." Apparently, 
each cell maintains the potential to de- 
velop into an adult parasite, although only 
one usually succeeds (a few crabs develop 
muhiple externa with independent root 
systems inside the body). 

This minimal transition helps to explain 
why the adult root-head shows no sign of 
barnacle affinities. If the adult parasite de- 
velops anew from a single transferred cell, 
then all architectural constraints of build- 
ing an adult from parts of a taxonomically 
recognizable larva have been shed. In any 
case, the primordial cell or cells then mi- 
grate from the site of injection through the 
circulatory spaces of the host, find a site 
for settlement, build an internal root sys- 
tem, and finally emerge through the host's 
abdomen as a new structure bearing the 
charming name of "virgin extema." 

Take all this — nauplius; cyprid; kentro- 
gon; injected passage into the host's body, 
sometimes by a single cell; migration to a 
pemianent site; growth of the rooted in- 
terna; and emergence of the extema. Stack 
up these stages against our own lives, even 
through all the Sturm und Drang of our 
teenage years, and which life cycle would 
you label as more complex? 

2. Manipulating and commandeering the 
host. The adult parasite may look like a 
rooted blob, but just as the most unprepos- 
sessing humans often hide immense 
power beneath their ordinary appearance 
(as many a Hollywood toughie has discov- 
ered to his great sorrow), beware of equat- 
ing ugly wartiness with benign simplicity. 
The adult rhizocephalan parasite has more 
tricks up its nonexistent sleeve than ex- 
tema appearance would suggest. 

Consider the following problem in 
logic as an indication of the physiological 
and behavioral sophistication that must be 
possessed by the adult parasite. We know 

that crabs fight back when the cyprid lar- 
vae try to settle, for potential hosts use 
their cleaning and grooming behaviors to 
remove the settling cyprids — and the great 
majority of potential parasites are thereby 
destroyed. In fact, the rapid transformation 
of exploring cyprid to cementing kentro- 
gon (accomplished within ten minutes in 
some species), the low and hunkenng 
shape of the kentrogon, and its firm ce- 
mentation to the host in many species have 
all been inteipreted — quite correctly in my 
view — as active adaptations by the para- 
site to vigorous counterattacks by poten- 
tial hosts. 

But when the virgin externa pokes 
through the abdomen and lies flush against 
the crab's underside, all "fight" has evapo- 
rated from the host. The crab still pos- 
sesses an active cleaning response, but 
makes no attempt to remove the extema. 
Why not? What has happened to the crab? 
In a remarkable paper published in 1981 
in the Journal of Crustacean Biology, au- 
thors Larry E. Ritchie and Jens T. H0eg 
answer these questions in their study of 
the root-head Lernaeodiscus porcellanae: 

The parasite returns to the surface as the ex- 
tema. What keeps the host from recognizing 
it as foreign or "parasite"" and destroying it, 
since the cleaning behavior is still avail- 
able? When an extema appears on the sur- 
face of the host, it must either be in a posi- 
tion or of a form that cannot be removed by 
the host, or it must be perceived as "self' 
and not harmed in any way. 

Since the extema could presumably be 
reached and removed, the second and 
more interesting alternative probably ap- 
plies. In other words, the parasite has 
somehow evolved to turn off the host's de- 
fenses, presumably by disarming the 
crab's immune response with some chem- 
ical trickery that fools the host into accept- 
ing the parasite as part of itself The au- 
thors continue: 

The evolution of host control, probably 
through some form of homional action, rep- 
resents the ultimate counterdefensive adap- 
tation of the Rhizocephala, for it nullifies 
the host's defense system. . . . Once host 
control is achieved, the host is in the ab- 
solute service of the parasite. 

The phrase "absolute service" may 
sound extreme, but a compendium of par- 
asitic devices for usuipation. takeover, and 
domination of the host can elicit only an 
eerie feeling of almost macabre respect for 
the unparalleled thoroughness (and clever- 
ness) of parasitic management. 

First of all. the adult parasite castrates 
the host, not by directly eating the gonadal 




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tissue (as in most cases of "parasitic cas- 
tration," a common phenomenon in this 
grisly world), but by some unknown 
mechanism probably involving the pene- 
tration of the intemas roots around and 
into the crab's nervous system. In Sac- 
culina (but not in most other rhizocepha- 
lans). the parasite also cuts off the hosts 
molting cycle, and the crab never again 
sheds its outer shell (an obvious benefit to 
the extema. which can easily be dislodged 
by such molting). 

Leniaeodisais porcellanae turns con- 
trol of the host into a fine art. After castra- 
tion by the parasite, male crabs develop fe- 
male characteristics in both anatomy and 
behavior, while females become even 
more feminized. The emerging extema 
then takes the same form and position as 
the crab's own egg mass (in normally de- 
veloping, uncastrated females) — attached 
to the imderside of the abdomen. The 
crabs — both males and females — then 
treat the extema as their own brood. In 
other words, the parasite usurps all the 
complex care normally invested in the 
crab"s owti progenj'. Crabs ventilate the 
extema by waving their abdomens: fhey 
actively (and carefuUyj groom the extema 
with their cleaning limbs. Moreover, 
Ritchie and Hoeg proved that this behav- 
ior may be indispensable for the extema's 
sun ival — for when they remo\'ed the 
cleaning limbs from a parasitized crab, 
"the extema soon became fouled and 
necrotic." Finall\". the "simple" root-head 
even fools the crab into regarding the re- 
lease of lan'ae from the extema as the dis- 
charge of her own fertilized eggs! Ritchie 
and Hoeg write: 

When it is time for the parasite to release its 
larvae, the host assists by performing cus- 
tomarj' spawning behavior. Normally cryp- 
tic, [the crab] climbs out from under the 
rock, elevates the body on tiptoes, and then 
lowers and raises the abdomen in a waving 
action. Simultaneous^, the parasite expels 
its nauplii into the current generated by the 

In short, rhizocephalans are the cuckoos 
of the marine invertebrate world — laying 
their eggs in another species's "nest." 
mimicking the host's own eggs (similarit)' 
of the extema to the crab's egg mass), and 
then eliciting parental care from the host. 
But rhizocephalans are e\ en more thor- 
ough, for they alwaj's castrate their host. 
while only some cuckoos kill the legiti- 
mate nestlings of their foster parents. 

In short, the root-head turns the crab 
into a Darwinian cipher, a feeding ma- 
chine woiking entirely in the parasite's 

ser\'ice. The castrated crab can make no 
contribution to its own evolutionary' his- 
ton': its "Darwinian fimess" has become 
flat zero. AU feeding and growth are now 
in the evolutionar\ interest of the root- 
head, which continues to reproduce at a 
prodigious rate, entirely at the crab's ex- 
pense, as the intema's roots drain the 
crab's nutrition. But ever so carefully, for 
the parasite must maintain the crab in con- 
stant and perfect ser\'imde — not draining 
the host enough to kill the golden goose, 
but not letting the crab do an>Thing for its 
own Darwinian benefit 

The root-head can maintain this deli- 
cate balance for a long time. Ritchie and 
Hoeg kept infested crabs in the laboratoiy 

The "roots" of the adidt Sacculina 

penade the body of a crab, nourishing 

the parasite and castrating — but not 

killing — the host. 

Nancy J- Hs^'sr, trom Im'anabrzlBS. tfy R, C. Brusca and G. J. 
Brusca (SinausT Associates- 1 990) 

for two years — ^with the parasites showing 
no iU effects and reproducing all the time. 
Moreover, the root-head can produce 
prodigious niunbers of lan'ae — all sup- 
ported by the crab's feeding. (The crab 
may have no perception of its e\olutionaiy 
phght. for the host treats the extema as its 
own egg sac.) In a 1984 article on Sac- 
culina carcini. Jorgen Liitzen fotmd that a 
single externa, during a breeding season 
lasting from nud-July to October, can pro- 
duce up to six batches of eggs, with an av- 
erage of 200.000 per clutch^for a total of 
more than one miUion eggs per season. 
Complex indeed — and devilishly effec- 
tive. If I were a conscious rhizocephalan. I 
would adopt as a motto: Don't call me a 
simple sac with roots. 

3. What about males? Or funher complex- 
ity in the root-head life cycle? The first 

16 MATtJRAL History 1/96 

two categories of complexity discuss only 
the female root-head. Delage and all the 
early students of rhizocephalans regarded 
the externa as a hermaphrodite, with both 
male and female organs. But the externa is 
entirely female. Male rhizocephalans were 
not well documented until the 1960s, 
when a group of Japanese zoologists fi- 
nally worked out the full sexual system of 
rhizocephalans and recognized the true 
nature of males. 

The male life cycle differs in a striking 
way from the development of females — 
another testimony to rhizocephalan com- 
plexity when we consider full biology 
rather than adult anatomy alone. The begin- 
ning stages of nauplius and cyprid are sim- 
ilar for both sexes. But whereas the female 
cyprid settles on a crab to begin a stage of 
internal p)enetration, the male cyprid alights 
instead on the female extema. In Sacculina 
and close relatives, the virgin extema con- 
tains no opening. But this initial extema 
soon molts to a second stage containing an 
orifice known as the mantle aperture. This 
opening leads into two passageways 
known as cell receptacles. 

Successful male cyprids settle on the 
extema's aperture. A unique male stage, 
called the trichogon, then forms within the 
cyprid. The trichogon, clearly the homo- 
logue of the female kentrogon but much 
simpler in form, has no muscles, ap- 
pendages, nervous tissue, or sense organs. 
It looks like a small mass of undifferenti- 
ated cells surrounded by a cuticle covered 
with small spines (trichogon means "hairy 
larva"). The trichogon passes through the 
antennule of the cyprid, into the aperture 
of the extema, and down the passageway 
of the cell receptacle. (Two trichogons 
may successfully enter the extema, one in 
each receptacle.) The trichogon sloughs 
the spiny cuticle and lodges as a small 
group of cells at the end of the passage- 
way. (Other rhizocephalans form no tri- 
chogon; the male cell mass must then be 
injected through the cyprid antennule right 
into the body of the extema.) These tiny 
male cell masses become sources for the 
production of sperm. 

These facts may not warm the hearts of 
superannuated macho blusterers among 
humans, but male root-heads end up as 
tiny dwarfs, injected into the body of a 
vastly larger female and finally coming to 
rest as a small mass of loosely connected 
cells deep inside the extema. Biologists 
refer to such males as hyperparasites — for 
they are parasitic upon a parasite. The fe- 
male parasitizes a crab, but the tiny male 
depends entirely upon the female for nour- 

ishment. The male cells, enclosed forever 
deep within the body of a relatively enor- 
mous and protective female (an odd kind 
of Freudian fantasy even for human males, 
I suppose), then spend their days differen- 
tiating sperm in synchrony with egg pro- 
duction by the extema. In summary, the 
intricate and different life cycles of both 
male and female root-heads, and the great 
behavioral sophistication shown by the fe- 
male in reconfiguring a host crab as a sup- 
port system, all underscore the myopia of 
our conventional wisdom in regarding rhi- 
zocephalans as degenerate parasites be- 

The root-head 
turns the crab into 

o feeding 

moohine working 

entirely in the 




cause the adult anatomy of intemal roots 
and external sac seems so simple. 

This reassessment of root-heads forces 
me to revise my initial take on the lessons 
of parasites for correcting the bias of 
equating evolution with progress — for I 
can no longer hold that parasitic degenera- 
tion argues for a slight majority of simph- 
fication over complexification among evo- 
lutionary trends. But this correction leads 
to an even better argument against pre- 
dictable progress — one that also takes us 
back to the roots of our intellectual her- 
itage in Darwin's ideas. 

In Degeneration: A Chapter in Darwin- 
ism, Lankester correctly identified belief 
in progress as the principal inference 
falsely drawn from Darwin's theory of nat- 
ural selection: 

Naturalists have hitherto assumed that the 
process of natural selection and survival of 
the fittest has invariably acted so as either to 
improve and elaborate the structure of all 
the organisms subject to it, or else has left 
them unchanged, exactly fitted to their con- 
ditions, maintained as it were in a state of 
balance. It has been held that there have 
been some six or seven great lines of de- 
scent . . . and that along each of these lines 
there has been always and continuously a 
progress — a change in the direction of 
greater elaboration. 

Lankester then cited supposed cases of 
degeneration, including root-heads as a 
primary example, to prove that natural .se- 
lection does not guarantee such progress. 
"Degeneration," he wrote, "may be de- 
fined as a gradual change of structure in 
which the organism becomes adapted to 
less varied and less complex conditions of 
life." Lankester, in other words, remains 
true to Darwin's deeper principle that nat- 
ural selection leads only to local adapta- 
tion, not to global progress. He correctly 
states that simplified conditions of life 
might lead, by natural selection, to less 
complex anatomies — and that these sim- 
plified descendants would be just as well 
adapted to their habitats as more complex 
ancestors were to previously more elabo- 
rate modes of life. But Lankester erred in 
regarding root-heads as degenerate forms 
properly responding to simplified condi- 
tions. An enlarged view of the entire root- 
head life cycle reveals great complexity 
and corresponding adaptation through 
several intricate phases of growth. The 
simple adult sac of the female extema tells 
but a tiny part of the entire elaborate tale. 

Rhizocephalans, instead, provide a su- 
perb example of Darwin's genuine prin- 
ciple — the production of appropriate local 
adaptation by natural selection. Rhizo- 
tephalans are phenomenally well suited to 
their complex conditions of life. But in 
evolving thek unique specializations, rhi- 
zocephalans did not become better (or 
worse) than any close relative. Are root- 
heads better than barnacles because they 
live on crabs rather than rocks? Are they 
worse then barnacles because the adult fe- 
male looks like a bag rather than a set 
of gills enclosed in a complex shell? Is a 
crab better than a barnacle? Do we prefer 
sea horses over marlins, bats over aard- 
varks? Such questions are foolish and di- 

Natural selection can only adapt each 
creature to its own local conditions — and 
such a mechanism therefore cannot ser\'e 
as a rarionale for our oldest and most per- 
nicious prejudice of progress. Rhizo- 
cephalans derail the bias of progress not 
because they are degenerate but because 
they are so well adapted and uniquely spe- 
cialized to their own intricate series of life- 
time environments — and how could we 
possibly rank all the disparate unique- 
nesses of the animal kingdom as cosmi- 
cally better or worse? Ma\' this aid to our 
poor benighted intellects — ;ind not only 
their undoubted success in commandeer- 
ing crabs for Darwinian advantage — rep- 
resent the triumph of the root-heads. D 





The Museum on Wheels 

by Tung F Cheng 

In 1922, a Museum messenger used this motorcycle to deliver slides and specimens to city schools. 
18 Natural History 1/96 

From time to time, a thirty-four-foot 
green Winnebago witfi "Tlie Moveable Mu- 
seum" written on its sides paries in front of 
the 77th Street entrance to the American 
Museum of Natural History. The sight is un- 
usual, for the vehicle normally moves from 
school to school in New York's five bor- 
oughs, where as many as one hundred stu- 
dents, in groups of about fifteen, tour its 
240-foot mini-exhibition space during a sin- 
gle stop. The converted RV is in such de- 
mand that when a central reservation book- 
ing system opened last September, within 
two days the schedule was filled through 
February. On weekends, the Moveable Mu- 
seum goes to shelters, street fairs, and com- 
I munity parks and has so far logged more 
than 15,000 miles with no breakdowns, no 
mishaps, and only a few scratches. 

Since the Moveable Museum's launching 
in 1993, about 20,000 city residents a year 
have seen its exhibitions, which have dealt 
with global warming and the environment, 
the science of water. New York City archi- 
tecture, and the science of perception. The 
American Museum and six other cultural' 
institutions in the area make up the Move- 
able Museum Partnership. The New York 
City Council provides much of the funding. 

In its current exhibition. "Clothing = Cli- 

mate -I- Culture," five dioramas display 
Bedouin, West African, Inuit, and Andean 
clothing, as well as the space suits worn by 
astronauts. Visitors may feel the difference 
between seal and polar bear fur. examine 
the loose-fitting layers of Bedouin cloth that 
protect the body from both heat and cold, 
and learn how a salmon-skin-covered Inuit 
boot provides waterproofing in a polar cli- 
mate. The space, which is wheelchair acces- 
sible, also features a microscope, an interac- 
tive computer station, and a video display. 

The Moveable Museum is only the latest 
example of the American Museum's out- 
reach to the Greater New York community. 
In 1903, the Education Department's ex- 
hibit division prepared twenty cabinets, dis- 
playing common species of birds, for loan 
to schools. By 1906, the department's 
school loan division was circulating 400 
such cabinets — containing not only birds 
but also insects, mollusks, crabs, starfish, 
worms, corals, sponges, minerals, and na- 
tive woods. Thousands of children from 300 
schools saw the collections in that year. In 
1907 an electric-powered delivery wagon 
distributed the collections — which now in- 
cluded cultural artifacts — to various branch 
libraries in addition to schools. By 1913 cir- 
culating materials included exhibitions on 

public health topics, and by 1915 lantern 
slides were available for loan. 

During World War I. the program was 
curtailed drastically when most of the dri- 
vers were called up for military service, but 
picked up again after the war. Motorcycles 
with sidecars were used to make the school 
deliveries of cabinets and miniature diora- 
mas. In the 1930s and 1940s, a fleet of six 
vehicles distributed natural history collec- 
tions, lantern slides, and films to hundreds 
of thousands of pupils a year. 

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Har- 
bor. New York City schools were temporar- 
ily forbidden to take children on outside ex- 
cursions, including Museum visits, until the 
city was able to work out effective air-raid 
warning and safety programs. As a conse- 
quence, the circulation program became 
more necessary than ever. 

Although the Museum continued to lend 
materials to schools, the program was grad- 
ually scaled back until it was finally termi- 
nated about 1980 because of lack of funds. 
With the introduction of the Moveable Mu- 
seum, the American Museum has revived 
its tradition of service to the community. 

Tung F. Cheng is the coordinator of the 
Moveable Museum. 

January Events 

Lectures, art demonstrations, films, 
workshops, and music and dance presenta- 
tions will be offered throughout January as 
part of the Education Department's year- 
long series "Multicultural Mosaic: Tradi- 
tions of a Diverse Society." The depart- 
ment's other year-long series. "Divine 
Magic," continues with the film Angels: 
Messengers of the Gods on Tuesday, Janu- 
ary 16, at 7:00 p.m.. followed by a discus- 
sion by writer Rosemary Ellen Guiley. Pro- 
grams in both series are free with admission 
to the Museum. Call (212) 769-5315 for a 
complete schedule. 

Sidney S. Horenstein. geologist and coor- 
dinator of the Museum's public programs on 
the environment, will give a survey course 
in basic geology. The series of three evening 
lectures will be given twice — on three con- 
secutive Tuesdays, beginning January 16, 
and on three consecutive Thursdays, begin- 

ning January 18. All lectures will start at 
7:00 P.M. in the Kaufmann Theater, and the 
series fee is $35. Call (212) 769-5310 for 
more information. 

Astrophysicist Bohdan Faczynski. of 
Princeton University, will talk about "The 
Search for Dark Matter with Gravitational 
Micro-lensing" on Monday, January 22. 
The lecture, part of the Hayden Planetar- 
ium's "Frontiers in Astronomy and Astro- 
physics" series, will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the 
Sky Theater. Tickets are $8 (S6 for mem- 
bers). Discounted tickets for the spring lec- 
ture series. February through Mav. are also 
available. Call (212) 769-5900 for informa- 
tion about the Planetarium's retrospective 
space art exhibition; the Sky Show "Cosmic 
Mind Bogglers: A Tour of Astronomical 
Extremes"; and upcoming lectures. 

Membership Programs 

Director-screenwriter Dean Curtis 

Bearclaw will introduce the screening of his 
documentary film. Warrior Chiefs of a New 
Age. on Thursday, January 25, at 7:00 RM. 

The Yueh Lung Shadow Theatre, practic- 
ing the 2.000-year-old art of Chinese 
shadow puppetry, will pert'orm on Saturday, 
January 27, at 1 1:00 a.m. and 1:00 RM. 

On Wednesday. January 31. at 7:00 RM.. 
paleontologist Edwin H. Colbert will talk 
about a Triassic dinosaur uncovered in New 
Mexico in 1947. Colbert, curator emeritus 
at the Museum, is the author of the recently 
published Little Dinosaurs of Ghost Ranch. 

All membership programs will be held in 
the Kaufmann Theater. For details, call 

The American Museum of Natural History 
is located on Central Park West at 79th 
Street in New York City. For more informa- 
tion about the Museum's hours and admis- 
sion fees, call (212) 769-5100. 




Seeking the Truffe 

France's black diamond of the kitchen can now be mined on American soil 

by Robb Walsh 

Smoke curled invitingly 
from the chimney of the thir- 
teenth-centuPy- farmhouse. 1 
pictured the huge stone hearth 
inside and wished I were still 
standing in front of the fire 
sipping red wine. Instead. I 
was on m}' knees in a grove of 
oak trees a few hundred yards 
aw^ay. my hands stuffed hard 
in my pockets, trying to ig- 
nore the January cold. 

We were waiting for a fly. 
My host — we'll call him 
Pierre — is one of the owners 
of this family farm in the 
Perigord region of France. 
Pierre volunteered to show 
me how he finds truffles dur- 
ing the prime midwinter truf- 
fle season. "How many truf- 
fles have you found so far this 
winter?" I asked him as we 
waited. Pierre put his fore- 
finger to his lips. 

"We do not talk about such 
things." my translator, an- 
other local farmer, explained. 
Neither man would allow his 
real name to be pubhshed. 
They warned me that disas- 
trous consequences befall 
farmers foolish enough to 
speak pubhcly about truffles around here. 

There are some 200 species of the 
below-ground fruiting ascomycetes com- 
monly known as truffles, and gourmets 
have shown an interest in quite a few of 
them. We don"t know what kind of truffles 
the Roman culinar\' genius Apicius used 
when he created his truffle recipes. Plin)^ 
and Juvenal spoke of African truffles, 
which were probabh' the desert truffle still 
found in Libya. But the favorite truffle of 
French gourmets is the one that Brillat- 
Savarin called "the black diamond of the 
kitchen," the black Perigord truffle. Tuber 

Perigord imffiev sniffs his freshly unearthed pri: 

Photographs by Robfa Walsh 

Although these truffles were hunted 
with muzzled pigs in France as far back as 
the fifteenth centun,", it wasn't until the 
middle of the nineteentii centur\' that black 
Perigord truffles reached the peak of their 
glon.. According to many reports, their 
numbers have been in serious decline ever 
since. Raymond Sokolov speculated on 
the suspicious nature of this shortage fi\e 
\ears ago in these pages ("An Embarrass- 
ment of Riches." Februar)- 1991). While 
truffles ha\'e remained among the highest- 
priced foodstuffs in the world, hanesi fig- 
ures have faUen from about a thousand 
tons at the tum of the centurv to bareh' 

twentv tons a year currently. 
Sokolov guessed that the 
French were manipulating the 
market to keep prices high. 
And he dreamed of a day 
when promising experiments 
in truffle cultivation would 
make truffles cheap and plen- 
tiful ail over the world. 

In 1993. I managed to 
worm my wa}' into the under- 
ground culture of the Perig- 
ord truffiers (truffle hunters) 
and returned with some in- 
sight into the statistics. Fur- 
thermore. 1 recently recei\'ed 
an update on experimental 
truffle plantations in the 
United States. So for those 
still obsessed with the ques- 
tions "Where have all the 
truffles gone?" and "Where is 
my next truffle coming 
from?" here is the truth about 
la Truffe. 

To understand the reported 
figures on the modem-day 
truffle hanest. you have to 
take into accoimt the secre- 
tive traditions of French tnif- 
e. fle hunters. Foraging for truf- 

fles requires no capital, no 
land, and no more equipment 
now than a trained dog. Although there are 
indisputabh' fewer duffles now than dur- 
ing die he\"da\- of truffle hunting in die 
nineteenth centiuy, there are still fifteen to 
twent}' thousand n-itffiers in France. While 
the scrupulous truffier might ask the 
owner of a farm or estate for permission to 
hunt truffles on the grounds for a spht of 
the take, it has alwa)s been more prof- 
itable for the truffier to simph' slip into the 
woods and hunt truffles on the sly. 

To my American eye. a Frenchman 
walking a dog on a countr}' road in the 
\\ inter t\\ihght is a charming tableau. But 
to the eve of a Perisord farmer a winter 

20 N.«TJRAL History 1/96 
















Is Its Own 

There is no substitute for learning, nor for the personal satisfaction and enrichment 
that education offers. With eight separate interdisciplinary courses of study, the 
Liberal Studies Master of Arts Program at Columbia University encourages learning 
for its own sake. 

Students avoid narrow specialization while developing their understanding of an area, 
culture, or historical period through study in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. 

You may attend full-time or part-time during the autumn, spring or summer terms. 

▲ American Studies 

▲ Ancient Studies 

▲ East Asian Studies 

▲ Islamic Studies 

▲ Jewish Studies 

▲ Medieval Studies 

▲ Modern European Studies 

▲ South Asian Studies 

For more information and a brochure, 

call 212-854-9383 

Liberal Studies M.A. Programs 
109 A Low Memorial Library 
Columbia University 
New York, NY 10027-7017 

For mformation concerning 
other Graduate School M.A. 
(jrograms, caii 212-854-8)20, 


Columbia University 


Columbia University is an atiitmative action/equal opportunity institution 

dog walker is nothing short of nefarious. 
Dogs long ago replaced pigs as truffle 
hunters" assistants. To lead the dog to a 
truffle bed. the truffle hunter scouts groves 
of oak and filbert trees for the teire bride e. 
or "scorched earth." that is a result of the 
special relationship between the truffle 
and the other plant life around it. 

The truffle is a mxcorrhizal fungus that 
forms a symbiotic relationship with its 
host tree. Each truffle species has its own 
preferences in hosts: the black Perigord 
truffle grows primarih' on oaks and fil- 
berts. The fungal colon\' diat produces the 
truffle lives in the soil around the roots of 
the trees. It absorbs moismre and nutri- 
ents, including immobile phosphorus in 
the soil, which it transfers to the hosts 
roots. In return, the tree provides the fun- 
gus with carbohydrates. The truffle itsetfis 
the fruiting body of the soO fungus. Its 
powerful fragrance acts as a lure to small 
mammals, \\hich eat the truffle and propa- 
gate the fungus through their droppings. 

The same fungus that aids the host tree 
produces herbicidal compounds that kill 
the grass and other \egetation in the area 
direcd\' abo\'e it. A patch of "scorched 
earth" in the middle of a grove of oaks or 
filbert trees wUl quickly lead a miffier and 
his dog to the truffles that lie below. 

You can teU when a cattle rusder has 
struck because your catde are missing, but 
you can"t know whether a truffle rusder 
has trespassed onto your propeny with a 
flashhght and a trained dog in the middle 
of the night. That's one reason Pierre 
won"t let me mention where this truffle 
patch is located or teU me how man}" tmf- 
fles he has found here. Suspicious of 
tniffiers. Pierre won"t e\ en hire them to 
help with his hanest. 

Pierre bragged that he didn't need a 
triiffier and his dog to find truffles an\"way. 
He demonstrated his o\\ n technique b>- 
walking through the scorched earth, 
sweeping a leaf\' branch in front of him 
imtil he caught sight of a fly. He directed 
us to kneel quieth' on the spot and wait for 
its return. .After t\\ ent} minutes of shi\er- 
ing. I finally saw the fly light on a clod and 
disappear underground. The \'ellow-and- 
black. wasplike truffle fl}" la\'s its eggs in 
mature truffles, and in the process it can 
lead a patient farmer to the prize. 

Pierre dug into the ground with a htde 
wooden tool on the spot where the fly had 
disappeared. He carefully sniffed each 
handfiil of earth as he dug. "As you get 
closer, the dirt smells more and more like 
truffles," he said. I started digging dirt out 
of the hole and sniflflna it myself. Ten min- 

utes later we were standing in front of the 
fireplace with dirt on our noses admiring a 
ten-gram truffle (about one-third of an 
ounce) and drinking wine. That night. 1 
joined Pierre for dinner, w hich included an 
immense quannt}' of goose confit. but no 
black tmffles. 

Like the miffiers. the farmers regard 
truffles as a luxuiy for the rich: they eat 
only the broken pieces and impertect truf- 
fles the\' can"t sell. To set a taste of the 

Kangourou, a retired ti-uffle-huiitiiig pig 

truffles we hunted. I had to don a coat and 
tie and visit local restaurants, where I 
gorged on truffle salads, tmffled eggs and 
truffled meats. I could easily detect the 
aroma of tmffles in these dishes, hut the 
fla\"or was a bit of a myster}". Some sa}' 
that tmffles have no flavor at all. 

French gastronomes ha\e always in- 
sisted that tmffles must be eaten in great 
quantities for the fla\or to be really appre- 
ciated. So one day. I bought a chestnut- 
sized specimen for about twents" dollars 
and carried it to a restaurant in Perigeaux. 
where I persuaded the chef to cook it for 
me whole. 1 ate chunks of it b}' itself, and 
then tried some with a linle bread and 
cheese. The more 1 ate. the more the fla\"or 
accumulated on my palate. It was an amal- 
gam of earth}- mushroom, sweet cocoa, 
and herb fla\'ors. but in the end it didn't 
taste like an}thing else in the world. I have 
craved black truffles ever since. 

That craving proved hard to satisfy after 

1 returned home. The w holesale price for a 
kilo ( 2.2 pounds i of black Perigord tmffles 
in the United States currenti} ranges from 
the indecent sum of S550 to the astronom- 
ical high of S750. Perigord black tmffles 
are native primarily to Greece. Italy. 
France, and Spain. For more than a cen- 
tun". entrepreneurs ha\e tried methods of 
culti\ating the precious fungus elsewhere. 
but ha\'e met w ith littie success. 

About twent}' years ago. there appeared 
to be a breakthrough. .\n intensi\e stud}' 
of tmffles b}' Gerard Che\ aher and his 
colleagues at the Plant Pathology Station 
of the French National Institute of Agro- 
nomics in Clemiont-Ferrand concluded 
that tree roots could be inoculated with 
tmffle spores. Che\'alier's team even de- 
vised a practical technique that could 
make tmfficulture a reaht}". 

In the late 1980s, inoculated saplings 
were planted in Italy. New Zealand, and 
the United States. .As Ra}Tnond Sokolo\' 
reported in his article fi\"e }ears ago. an 
.American plantation in Dripping Springs. 
Texas, was expected to produce truffles b}' 
1991. In gleeful anticipation. Sokolo\' fan- 
tasized about soon being able to buy 
cheap. .American-grown black Perigord 
tmffles at his comer convenience store. 

Five years after the projected har\est 
date, there are still no cheap tmffles. The 
Dripping Springs plantation, which is 
about r\\ ent}' miles from m}' .Austin home, 
was a failure. 1 was about to dismiss the 
whole American tmffle-growing business 
as another get-rich-quick scheme gone 
awr\". until 1 phoned Jim Trappe. a mycol- 
ogist at Oregon State Universit}' and a 
leading authorit}' on tmffle taxonom}. I 
asked Trappe if tmffles w ould e\'er be cul- 
tivated in tlie United States. 

Trappe cahnl}' rephed w ith the news 
that .American gourmets ha\e long waited 
to hear: tmffles are already being grown in 
the United States. 

Last w inter, a North Carolina farmer 
named Franklin Garland harxested a com- 
mercial quantit}' of black Perigord tmffles. 
and a few other .American faimers are re- 
porting similar results. Trappe had person- 
ally verified the Tuber j?ieIaiiospontm 
specimens when he visited Garland's truf- 
fle orchard. The size of the hardest was 
modest, only ten pounds. But Garland 
says he sold his tmffles for S350 a pound. 

Sokolo\' won't find cheap tmffles at the 
comer store an}time soon. Until the har- 
vest gets a little bigger. I'm afraid we're 
stuck with French prices. .And I can't help 
but wonder if. along with the prices. 

22 N.\TURAL History 1/96 

American growers will also inherit the se- 
crecy and suspicion of the French truffle 

Truffle rustling aside, I knew that there 
was another, more personal reason the 
French fanners were so unwilling to dis- 
cuss their truffle harvests. That reason was 
taxes. "Tourists go to the truffle markets in 
Europe expecting to see truffles," scoffed 
Rosario Safina, of Urbani Truffles in Long 
Island City, New York, the nation's oldest 
truffle importer. "But all they see are a 
bunch of guys standing around smoking 
cigarettes. Nobody's going to put their 
truffles out on display in a public market." 

"Why?" I asked. 

"Because then they'd have to pay taxes 
on them," he laughed. The value added tax 
runs as high as 19.5 percent, and then 
there's income tax on top of that, Safina 
said. There is no doubt that the French 
truffle harvest has declined since the late 
1800s and early 1900s as a result of envi- 
ronmental and wartime disruptions. But 
not so coincidentally, the French personal 
income tax legislation was imposed in 
1917. Part of the reason the reported truf- 
fle figures have looked so bad ever since is 
that the underground fungus long ago be- 
came a part of the underground economy. 

In the abstract, it's easy to fault the 
French for the legendary skullduggery and 
apparent price manipulation of this luxury 
commodity. And it's easy to forget that the 
175-year-old trade is still primarily run by 
small-time foragers who sell their truffles 
to the rich, a basketful at a time. After 
hanging around with Pierre and the 
tnijfiers, it's hard for me to believe that 
Americans would behave much differ- 
ently under the circumstances. 

We'll soon have a chance to find out. 
Franklin Garland's North Carolina truffle 
orchard is a small one, but it's only the tip 
of the iceberg. Besides selling truffles. 
Garland and the other orchard owners ex- 
pect to do a booming business selling in- 
oculated saplings to anybody who wants 
to buy them. 

While cheap truffles at the comer con- 
venience store remain a distant dream, 
planting your own truffle orchard has now 
become a possibility. But if, a few years 
from now. your orchard produced more 
tmffles than you could eat and you sold a 
few to a restaurant, would you declare the 
income on your tax fomi? And how long 
would it take for you to become suspicious 
of your dog-walking neighbors? 

Culinary adventurer Rohh Walsh writes 
about food for the Austin Chronicle. 

American Museum of Natural History 


Aboard the 45-passenger saiUnj;; yacht Panorama 
May 27 - June 9, 1996 






















Nowhere in the Mediterranean does one find a greater concen 
tration of ancient sites and spectacular scenery than along the 
Turkish coast. Join a team of Museum lectur- 
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This April we have planned a special Discovery Tour weekend in New 

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By the time the famme was over, a iiiilUon Irish had tU^ 

One hundred fifty years ago, a disease of potatoes 
precipitated Ireland's Great Hunger 

The Leaf That 
Launched a 
Thousand Ships 

An Emigrant Ship, 
Dublin Bay, Sunset 

Painting by Edwin Hayes (1819-1904) 
National Gallery of Ireland 

by Douglas C. Daly 

24 Natural History 1/96 


[id a million and a half had emigrated in small ships. 


. .^*J^- •; *;v<i^^ I **ftj^ii^--' 

Bernard O 'Regan, who died this past June at 
the age of ninety-eight, knew some of those who 
survived the Irish potato famine of 150 years 
ago. He recalled when he was nine watching 
Tom Guerin struggling up the road on misshapen 
legs to visit the O'Regan house near Skibbereen, 
County Cork. Young Bemard hid behind the ash 
tree at the head of the lane because children 
weren't supposed to see such unpleasant things. 
Sixty years before, when Tom was a small boy, 
the hunger in his family had reached the point 
where his mother took him for dead, and she had 
broken his fragile legs when she tried to fit him 
into the only box she had in which to bury him. 
The box was placed in a mass grave, where 
Tom's moans had saved him. 

For Bemard O'Regan, Tom Guerin was just 
one ghostly reminder of what the Irish call An 
Gorta Mor. the Great Hunger of 1845-52. By 
the time it was over, a million had died and a mil- 
lion and a half had emigrated in wave after wave 

of small ships. The famine was brought on by 
"late blight," a disease of potatoes that swept 
across Ireland like a scythe. It combined with 
desperate social and economic conditions to pro- 
duce a tenible convulsion of suffering. 

The potato comes from the Andes, where tra- 
ditional farmers cultivate several thousand dis- 
tinct varieties. A single field may be planted with 
as many as forty of them. The potato was intro- 
duced to Europe in about 1565, and there are re- 
ports that Sir Walter Raleigh planted them on his 
properties in western Ireland as early as the 
1580s. At first, the Irish used the potato more as 
a backup for grains, but toward the end of the 
seventeenth century, it had become an important 
winter food. By the mid-eighteenth century it 
was a general field crop and provided the staple 
diet of small fanners during most of the year. 

The potato was better adapted than other sta- 
ple crops to the cool, wet conditions in Ireland, 
making it more productive and more reliable. 

Goninuia Island. 
Conneniara. County Galwax 

bv Macduff 


For many of those on the edge 1 50 years ago, what it boe 
no capital best feed his family on a speck of bad land hell 

Grains suffered too often from lodging (lying 
flat, which hinders growth), failure to ripen, low 
yields, preharvest sprouting, and high moisture 
content, which can lead to molding in storage. 
The grain crop especially suffered in quantity 
and quality in wet seasons. In contrast, potato 
plants yielded abundantly in wet years. One acre 
of poor ground could yield six tons of potatoes. 
The "lazy bed" mode of cultivation, in which 
rows of seed potatoes were placed on the ground 
and covered with manure, seaweed, and soil dug 
from trenches along the rows, protected the tu- 
bers from excess moisture. 

In 1848, just after the worst year of the 
famine, a Scotsman named Bain asserted: 

Whatever may be the misfortunes of Ireland, the 
potato is not implicated. It, on the contrary, has 
nioi-e than done its duty, in giving them bones and 

sinew cheap There is no other crop equal to the 

potato in the power of sustaining Hfe and health. 

Writing with terrible prescience, however, a 
visitor to Ireland observed in 1822, 

Potatoes are the grand nutrient principle and sup- 

port of existence, and without this valuable veg- 
etable, hundreds must daily fall into the grave. It 
forms the great barrier to the ravages of hunger, 
and indeed constitutes almost the only one. 

In the words of the late Austin Bourke, a for- 
midable authority on the history of late blight 
and the famine, there was a "sinister trend to- 
ward monoculture." Potatoes made up 60 per- 
cent of the food supply for a population of about 
8.1 million, with some 3.3 million Irish relying 
on it almost exclusively. In agricultural areas, the 
average per capita consumption of potatoes was 
a ton a year, or more than five pounds a day, and 
as much as fourteen pounds a day for adult 
males. Many laborers were paid in potatoes or in 
the use of land to grow them. 

Ireland's overdependence on the potato was 
not the resuh of some exaggerated cultural pref- 
erence. For many of those on the edge 150 years 
ago, what it boiled down to was how could a 
debt-laden peasant with no capital best feed his 
family on a speck of bad land he didn't own, and 
there was only one answer. 

Irish farmers did develop some 200 potato 

26 Natural History 1/96 

1 dowii to was how could a debt-laden peasant with 
hit own, and there was only one answer: the potato. 


cultivars (commercial varieties). But by the 
1840s, there was a rapid "degeneration" of culti- 
vars, probably due to a buildup of what plant 
pathologists call the virus load, or the accumula- 
tion of viral diseases in the clones. Most peasants 
in the regions hardest hit by the famine grew a 
single potato cultivar, the lumper, poor successor 
to the black, apple, and cup cultivars. It was uni- 
versally detested as a "watery" tuber that report- 
edly even livestock avoided when there was an 
alternative; but in the wet, rocky soils of westem 
Ireland it was at the time the most productive 
cultivar available and did the best job of filling a 
lot of hungry stomachs. 

Late blight, the disease that devastated the 
Irish potato, is caused by a fungus, Phytophthora 
infestans. whose spores germinate on the leaves 
and stems of the potato plant, as well as in the 
soil. The damage done by the disease usually be- 
comes obvious relatively late in the growing sea- 
son, hence the name. Dark spots signal the initial 
infection, when the fungus's invasive, threadlike 
hyphae have penetrated the host plant's epider- 
mis. After the hyphae have spread systemically 

throughout the host, in wet conditions a downy 
growth appears on the affected leaves. After the 
fungus emerges from the stomates, or leaf pores, 
it develops sporangia, which then release count- 
less, asexually produced zoospores. The leaves 
and stems decay, and the plant dies. Often the 
outside of the tubers become discolored and the 
inside is affected by a dark, corky rot. A modem 
mycologist once described the discolored 
patches as resembling "contused flesh." 

Mycologist E. C. Large, author of The Ad- 
vance of the Fungi (1940), wrote empathetically 
of the blight-infected potato plant: 

If a man could imagine his own plight, with 
growths of some weird and colourless seaweed is- 
suing from his mouth and nostrils, from roots 
which were destroying and choking both his di- 
gestive system and his lungs, he would have a very 
crude and fabulous, but perhaps instructive idea. 

Late blight almost certainly came from the 
central highlands of Mexico, where the Toluca 
Valley is not only the center of the genetic diver- 
sity of the fungus but also the only place where 
sexually reproducing populations were origi- 

Coimty Kern in the 
southwest of Ireland 



The Mexican fiuigus and the .\ndean tnbei that was so^i 
tune m the northeastern United States. 

Dingle Peninsula. 
Count\ Ken-y 

nally found. The potato {Solaniim tuberosum ) is 
not native there, but late blight afflicts a number 
of related Mexican plants in the same genus, and 
clearly they and the fungus have been evolving 
in opposition for a long time. The Mexican fun- 
gus and the Andean tuber that was so totally un- 
prepared to resist it came together for the first 
time in the northeastem United States, possibly 
introduced there via a collector's Mexican 
Solanum specimen. It was first observed in 
potato crops near Philadelphia about 1843. By 
1845. late blight had spread to almost all of 
northeastem North America, and that summer it 
made its appearance in westem Europe. 

The Europeans were no strangers to diseases 
of the potato. The "curl" of potatoes had reduced 
yields in the 1 760s. and the far more destructive 
"taint." or "■dn.- rot." had caused hardship in Ire- 
land and Scotland from 1832 to 1836 and then 
on the Continent up to 1841. The first, curl, was 
a virus, and the second, taint, was a fungus now 
called Fusahwu. but at that time, hardh' anyone 
understood what caused disease in plants or ani- 
mals. Many European countries were already 
engaged in the regular exchange and importation 
of potato N'arieties. often with the purpose of re- 
placing the "degenerate" ones that were failing, 
and this interchange was stepped up in response 
to the need for \arieties resistant to dr\- rot. Al- 
though well intentioned. in this case the practice 
led to disaster. 

At one point, someone imported potatoes in- 
fected with late blight. They could have been one 
of a number of official or extraofficial shipments 

to se\'eral ports of entry, but one stoty is com- 
pelling. In a move to make the potato crop 
healthier, the provincial government of West 
Randers funded importation of fresh potato vari- 
eties from North and South America, and these 
were the subject of field trials in 1843-5: late 
bhght was first reported there, in the Courtrai 
area of Belgium, in the last week of June 1845. 

The summer in the Low Countries had started 
beautifully, but then, as Austin Bourke's archival 
research revealed. 

shallow thunden,' depressions penetrated into the 
continent and gave rise to a recurrent wind pattern 
which fa\'oured the transport of spores eastwards 
as well as westwards in moist sunless weather. 

A contemporary observer noted that what 
began as perfect haymaking w^eather gave way 
in Juh to more than three weeks of "one contin- 
ued gloom, the sun scarcely ever visible during 
the time, with a succession of most chilUng rains 
and some fog." 

Each fungal lesion on each leaf could generate 
300,000 offspring every five days, and each of 
those, 300.000 more in turn. Late bhght could 
destro}' a potato field in a few da}'s. By mid- July, 
late blight was all over Flanders and neighboring 
parts of the Netherlands and France. By mid- 
August it was around Paris, the lower Rhineland. 
northwestem France, the Channel Islands, and 
southern England. 

On August 23. 1845. a week after the first 
sighting of the fungus in England, the eminent 
botanist John Lindle}' began an editor's note in 
the widely read Gardeners' Chronicle andAgri- 

28 Natural History 1/96 


tally unprepared to resivSt it came together for the first 


cultural Gazette with the ominous report that "A 
fatal malady has broken out amongst the potato 
crop. On all sides we hear of the destruction." 
Three weelcs later, he added. 

We stop the Press, with very great regret, to an- 
nounce that the Potato Muirain [pestilence] has 
unequivocally declared itself in Ireland . . . where 
will Ireland be, in the event of a universal potato 

Shortly thereafter, Lindley was appointed to a 
three-man commission to study and report on the 
disease in Ireland. After visiting Ireland and 
spending a month sifting through all the avail- 
able information and a number of hypotheses 
about the origin of the problem, the commission 
concluded that the potato murrain had been 
caused by the unusual weather. They also 
warned of massive food shortages in Ireland. 

As it tumed out. the disease proved less dev- 
astating to Ireland in 1845 than predicted. In Bel- 
gium, Holland, and northeastern France, the 
potato plants" foliage had been destroyed in most 
cases while the tubers were no bigger than mar- 
bles; but the disease arrived later in Ireland, 
which in 1845 salvaged about 60 percent of what 
was going to be a bumper crop. Moreover, the tu- 
bers stored that fall were not affected as much as 
Lindley had expected. 

People were optimistic when the summer of 
1846 got off to a good start, but the bad weather 
returned, and this time the blight in Ireland 
started in the west in August and spread east and 
northeast with tremendous speed — fifty miles a 
week according to some estimates. Thus Lind- 

. ^H* t/A <,^^inf j^(i.T*rT^ ._ _ ^I^^,^g*gyy» '-j>'.^~^*' ^..^^.^^ "^^s^J^i-v^^^Or^ 

JW^iy ■^Jfc..-' 



B (D 5 T Ji J TT E X ^^ . 

ley's predictions were borne out one year late. 
In 1847 (stUl known in Ireland as Black '47) 
and 1848, the weather and blight of 1846 re- 
peated themselves. Ln Kenmare, County Kerry, a 
market town at the head of a tidal river in the 
west of Ireland, the parish priest. Father John 
O'Sullivan, wrote on July 16, 1848, 

We were all in the greatest spirits at the approach 
of plenty, but blight has made its appearance. On 
the morning of the 13th, to the astonishment of 
everyone, the potato fields that had, on the previ- 
ous evening, presented an appearance that was cal- 
culated to gladden the hearts of the most indiffer- 
ent, appeared blasted, withered, blackened and, as 
it were, sprinkled with vitriol, and the whole coun- 
try has in consequence been thrown into dismay 
and confusion. 

The scale of the suffering, especially in such a 
small country, is difficult to imagine. Tens of 
thousands died as they tried to emigrate — either 
on the "coffin ships" that carried them or in quar- 
antine thereafter — but the great majority of the 
victims of the Great Hunger are buried in un- 
marked graves all over the island: thirty dead for 
every square mile. 

Terrible smells pervaded the countryside. 
Lindley remarked that the decaying plants emit- 
ted a "peculiar and rather offensive odour." Fa- 
ther Mathew, a well-known observer of the 
famine, passed "one wide waste of putrefying 
vegetation" between Dublin and Cork on August 
7, 1 846. There were also the smells of death, of 
unburied bodies, of the sick and starving 
crammed into the workhouses, uncared for and 
unable to care for themselves. Most who died 
were weakened by hunger and then killed by 
what was collectively known as famine fever — 

On the eve of the famine, the 
teeming poor in the west of 
Ireland subsisted by planting 
potatoes in even the poorest 
land. This led to the 
stereotype of the Irish 

Collection of Nick Robinson 


"On the morning of the 13 th, to the astonishment of evi 
eAening, presented an appearance that was calcnlated tol 
blasted, withered, blackened and, as it were, sprinkled ^| 

A newspaper illustration 
captures the niiseiy of Brian 
Conor ofKilrush. County 
Clare, one of the tens of 
thousands who were evicted 
during the famine. He sits 
beside his scalp, the rough 
shelter that the dispossessed 
made in ditches. 

Illustrated London News 

Sky Road, Clifden, 
County Galway 

actually louse-borne relapsing fever and espe- 
cially louse-borne typhus, whose victims give 
off a characteristic, awful smell in the last stages 
before they die. 

Within weeks of the outbreak in 1845, a flood 
of newspaper articles, privately published pam- 
phlets, reports, and scientific papers offered ex- 
planations for the plant disease and proposed so- 
lutions to it. Some were crackpot even by the 
standards of the day, some were reasonable, and 
some were even correct. But the science of plant 
pathology didn't yet exist, and the germ theory 
of Pasteur was still a quarter-cenmry away. The 
causes suggested for the disease included a poi- 
sonous miasma home on the air. industrial pollu- 
tion, volcanic exhalations, gases from the re- 
cently introduced sulfur matches, electricity in 
the atmosphere, the use of guano as a fertilizer, 
an aerial taint originating from outer space, or, to 
use a phrase adopted by Austin Bourke as the 
title of his superb book on the famine, "the visi- 
tation of God." One scientist insisted that it was 
a "simple eremacausis or excolation in conse- 
quence of a deficiency of vital energy in the 

A simpler explanation, and one proposed al- 
most immediately by a number of scientists and 
amateur mycologists in Belgium, was that the 
disease was caused by the fungus that everyone 
had observed in association with the ailing 
potato plants. Once the blight had reached Eng- 
land, they were joined in this conclusion by the 
Reverend Miles J. Berkeley, who went on to be- 
come the father of plant pathology. Soon, how- 
ever, all but a stubborn few were obliged to re- 
cant or remain silent as a more numerous and 

more influential group espoused a different the- 
ory. This group held that the disease was due to 
the inability of potato plants to eliminate excess 
water in their normal fashion under extreme con- 
ditions, so the plants developed a kind of dropsy 
and died from wet putrefaction. In other words, it 
was the weather, and the fungus was only an op- 
portunist on the enfeebled plants. 

John Lindley was fairer and more evenhanded 
than many of those committed to the weather 
theory. He gave editorial space in the Gardeners' 
Chronicle to various viewpoints and recommen- 
dations, regardless of his own opinion. Still, his 
word carried a lot of weight, and he was part of 
the scientific commission appointed to investi- 
gate the blight in Ireland. The solutions it pro- 
posed could only be as sound as the principles on 
which they were based. They focused on storage 
of healthy tubers and uses of diseased ones, leav- 
ing the foUage to catch and cast spores all over. 

Scottish-bom David Moore, the curator of the 
Glasnevin Botanic Gardens in Dublin and the 
first to confirm the arrival of late blight in Ire- 
land, was also the first person to note that late 
blight attacked tomatoes and other relatives of 
the potato. For a time, Moore concurred with the 
weather theory, but after numerous observations 
and experiments, as well as communications 
with the Reverend Mr. Berkeley in England, he 
went against the tide and converted to the fungal 
theory by late July 1846. His wife, Isabella, died 
in 1847 of famine fever. For scientists in Ireland, 
the debate over the merits of the weather theory 
and the fungal theory was no mere academic ex- 

Another who understood the nature of the dis- 


30 Natl!Ral History 1/96 

one, the potato fields that liad, on the previons 
adden the he€irts of the most in(hf ferent, appeared 
li vitriol." 


ease was Dr. Thomas Taylor, a physician who 
was also a professional botanist. Bom in 1786, 
on a boat on the Ganges River, he was the son of 
an Irish military officer and an Indian noble- 
woman. He spoke only Hindustani until he was 
seven years old, when he was sent to school in 
Ireland. After earning his M.D. in 1814, Taylor 
practiced medicine in Dublin for several years 
and then taught natural history at the Royal Cork 
Institution, but his first love was the study of 
mosses, lichens, and other organisms that repro- 
duce by spores. 

In 1 830-3 1 Taylor "retired" to his family's es- 
tate at Dunkerron near Kenmare, where he was 
able to pursue his research while supporting 
himself as "physician, magistrate, and farmer." 

When late blight struck Kenmare in the fall of 
1845, Taylor examined a number of diseased 
potatoes. He soon reached the unpopular conclu- 
sion that the fungus was the cause of the disease. 
On February 5, 1846, he wrote to his friend 
William Jackson Hooker, who had become the 
first director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at 
Kew (and who had once described Taylor as "a 
corpulent and very heavy-looking man, yet by 
no means wanting in good sense"): 

I do not like to suppose that "certain atmospheric 
causes" without clearly knowing what, occasioned 
the disease. The atmosphere by its moisture, its 
temperature, its purpose, its electricity, the vio- 
lence of its winds may act — but it is unphilosoph- 
ical to suppose that such have never before 1 845 

Tlie BUglit Is Back 

Today the potato — one of the four major 
food crops in the world, along with rice, 
wheat, and maize — has once again become 
a staple for populations on the edge. In an 
eerie repetition of history, new strains of 
late blight, the fungal disease that destroyed 
Ireland's potato crops in the 1840s, are 
sweeping through potato fields in much of 
Europe and North America and parts of 
South America, Africa, Asia, and the Mid- 
dle East. Losses in the United States alone 
totaled $100 million in 1994, plus as much 
again in additional costs for efforts to sup- 
press the disease. Just as before, scientists 
are sending one another samples and trying 
to figure out what is happening. 

For a hundred years after late blight ap- 
peared in Europe, important phases of the 
life cycle of the fungus {Phytophthora infes- 
tans) that caused it remained partly 
shrouded in mystery because all known 
populations reproduced asexually. The spe- 
cies' sexual stage had eluded observation. 
Then, in the early 1950s, John Nieder- 
hauser, a Rockefeller Foundation scientist 
working in Mexico with the Ministry of 
Agriculture, discovered the fungus's ances- 
tral home. When he introduced potatoes 
into the Toluca Valley, in the central high- 
lands of Mexico, and grew them during the 
rainy season, the plants were slaughtered by 
late blight. He found that the fungus repro- 
duced both asexually and sexually there. 

and he discovered the two mating types 
(called A 1 and A2) that enable the fungus to 
round out its life cycle with sexual produc- 
tion of oospores. Both types produce male 
and female organs, but in order for sexual 
reproduction to take place, the male ga- 
metes of one type must contact female ga- 
metes of the other type. 

Sexual reproduction is what concerns 
plant pathologists most, for two reasons. 
First, sex is a tremendously efficient mecha- 
nism for generating new genotypes. Sec- 
ond, unlike the zoospores that the fungus's 
sporangia produce asexually, the oospores 
that result from sexual reproduction can sur- 
vive outside a host for many months in the 
temperate zone. Cornell University plant 
pathologist William Fry and his colleague 
Stephen B. Goodwin emphasize that "mi- 
grations have brought Al and A2 mating 
types together, and the resultant sexual re- 
production has probably altered late blight 
management forever." 

The fungus population in the Toluca Val- 
ley contains countless genotypes, but Fry 
and Goodwin have determined that until re- 
cenfly, a single clonal lineage, of Al strain, 
has dominated most populations of P. infes- 
tans worldwide. They conclude that only a 
single genetic individual was transported 
from the United States to Europe, and sub- 
sequently to the rest of the world, in the 
nineteenth century. Twenty years ago, how- 
ever, this genetic bottleneck was broken 
wide open, when 25,000 tons of potatoes 

were exported to Europe from Mexico. The 
Cornell pathologists believe these potatoes 
were infected with numerous genetic strains 
of late blight because the new wave is more 
diverse genetically. The new strains of the 
fungi are aggressive, displacing old popula- 
tions of P. infestans in many areas. And 
most alarming, many are showing resis- 
tance to metalaxyl, to date the most effec- 
tive weapon in the agrochemical arsenal 
and one that many farmers are depending 
on to arrest raging new epidemics. In some 
regions, fungicide resistance has resulted 
from the introduction of resistant geno- 
types, but in others it may have developed 
locally through natural selection. 

Europe is the source of most of the 
world's commercial seed potatoes, so the 
disease has spread rapidly, with new strains 
documented in many countries. A deadly 
milestone was reached in Europe in the late 
1980s, when scientists detected the first evi- 
dence of sexual reproduction of the fungus 
outside of Mexico. During 1992-93, a sig- 
nificant increase in the frequency of A2 and 
of new genes in A 1 in North America led 
pathologists to conclude that there had been 
a massive immigration of P. iiifeskins from 
northwestern Mexico. In three blighted 
fields in British Columbia, the fungus ap- 
peared to be reproducing sexually. By 1994. 
A2 strains had made their way to Bolivia, 
raising the possibility that late blight may 
soon threaten invaluable genetic resources 
in the potato's Andean homeland. — D. C. D. 


Most who died were weakened by hunger 

and then killed b\ what was eollectivelv krrown 

as famine fever — louse-borne relapsing fever 

and espeeiallv louse-borne t\q)hus, 

Adiose Aietims give off a eharaeteristie, awfid smell 

m the last stages before thev die. 

Lambay Island, 
County Dublin 

Dr. Thomas Taylor's 1846 
drawing of a blight-infested 
potato leaf, Farlow 
Herbarium, Hanwd 

Douglas C Daly 

produced similar effects and only developed them 
now. For undoubtedly the disease is new to the 

Taylor was already the attending physician at 
the Kenmare Workhouse, and when epidemics 
followed close on the starvation, he began treat- 
ing the victims of fever. On May 8, 1847, he 
wrote to Hooker: 

Our distress in this district is great indeed. I am 
within bound when I suppose that on the River 
Kenmare, at present 100 die daily, painfully, of 
fever and dysentery, but which would not have the 
same force but for the previous starvation. At the 
Poor House, I attend daily 220 in the epidemic. I 
am unassisted. More than 40 medical officers of 
Union Works Houses have perished of fever 
caught in the discharge of their duties. Assuredly, 
my turn cannot be very distant. 

It wasn't. Taylor died, apparently from one of 
the famine fevers, on February 4, 1848. There is 
a sad irony in the Latin motto on the Taylor coat 
of arms, which translated means "victorious over 
the winds." 

As Taylor surmised, a fungus had indeed 
caused the disease of the potato in freland, but it 
wasn't until 1861 that Anton de Bary of Freiburg 
published the experiments that showed the 
growth patterns of Phytophthora infestans and 
established its guiU. The copper sulfate-based 
Bordeaux mixture for spraying mildewed 
grapevines was discovered basically by accident 
in the early 1880s, but it was another ten years 

before copper sulfate mixtures were in general 
use to spray against late bhght in Ireland. By 
then the damage was done. 

Some time after Taylor died, his lands were 
lost, the woods were cut down, and the family 
dispersed. The Taylor family tomb is in the wet, 
waist-high grass of the old abandoned Protestant 
cemetery east of Kenmare, but most of the epi- 
taphs on the headstones there have been erased 
by the rain, the sea breezes, and Taylor's beloved 
mosses and lichens. 

In 1974, Donald Pfister, recently arrived at 
Harvard to teach and research mycology, came 
across a large, thin sheet of paper as he was ac- 
quainting himself with some of the miscella- 
neous collections of dried specimens in the Far- 
low Herbarium. The handwritten caption read 
"Botiytis infestans on potatoe leaf," and the little 
drawing below showed the fungus and its spore 
cases emerging from the underside of a leaf, as it 
had appeared under a microscope in 1846. The 
caption and the drawing were by Dr. Thomas 
Taylor, whose herbarium was acquired by Har- 
vard in the 1940s. 

There was a small packet glued to the sheet 
above Taylor's drawing. Pfister unfolded the 
edges and opened it to find a shriveled potato 
leaf that still bore the ugly mark of the fungus. 
There may be a few more of these disfigured 
scraps tucked away in the dusty archives of some 
European herbaria. They are the leaves that 
launched a thousand ships. D 

32 NATJRy\L RlSTORY 1/96 






bv Christine Kiiiealv 

No one knows precisely how many people 
died in Ireland's Great Famine of 1845-52, but 
in a population of more than eight million 
people, the death count reached at least one mil- 
lion. Another million and a half emigrated. This 
occurred within the jurisdiction of the richest and 
most industrially advanced empire in the world. 
According to one report. 

Most of the dead were buried in fields or along the 
roads. The corpse was frequently wrapped with 
straw ropes and buried in this way without a cof- 
fin. .. . Tombstones were not erected as it was dif- 
ficult to find men with the strength to make the 

graves Bodies actually lay unburied by hedges 

for rats soon devoured the flesh and only the skele- 
ton remained. 

The potato blight was an ecological disaster 
that shuck Ireland at a particularly vulnerable 
time. But what transformed the blight into a 
famine was the failure of the British govem- 
ment — and landlords and merchants — to meet 
the challenge and implement effective action. 

People died from a variety of causes, rela- 
tively few from actual starvation. Most were 
felled by relapsing fever, typhus, dysentery, and 
cholera — their vulnerability to these diseases ex- 
acerbated by hunger, inadequate shelter, over- 
crowding in workhouses, and hard labor on re- 
lief schemes. 

Potatoes — grown mostly in the south and 
west of the country, and far less in the richer and 
more industrially developed east — played a 
unique part in the Irish economy. People from all 
social groups ate them, but the poor ate them al- 
most exclusively. Close to half the population ate 
little except potatoes and buttermilk — a diet that, 
although monotonous, was highly nutritious. By 

the 1 840s, Ireland had one of the healthiest pop- 
ulations in Europe. Potatoes were also fed to cat- 
tle, horses, and other farm animals. High-quality 
grains were also gi^own and, on the eve of the 
famine, the country was exporting sufficient 
grain to England to feed two million people. 

Ireland's own population had been rising 
rapidly, from two million in 1750 to more than 
four milhon in 1791. By 1841 it was more than 
eight million, one of the fastest-growing in Eu- 
rope. Britain, which had finally absorbed Ireland 
in 1800 after centuries of repeatedly attempting 
to subjugate the small neighboring island, 
wanted to restructure and modernize Irish agri- 
culture. Irish estates — extensively subdivided 
into small plots — were considered to be in need 
of consolidation as a way of increasing output 
and ending poor people's dependence on pota- 
toes. Although monoculture was recognized as a 
problem, the potato itsetf was considered prob- 
lematic. The easy cultivation of this "lazy crop" 
was blamed for the supposed indolence of the 
Irish people. In the end, the agent that would rad- 
ically transform Ireland's landholding system 
was Phytophthora infestans, the "late blight" 
that reached the country in the summer of 1845. 

When the potato crop failed that year, the 
British government under the premiership of Sir 
Robert Peel, reacted swiftly. He introduced relief 
measures, including the purchase of £100,000 
worth of Indian com in America for resale in Ire- 
land, financial support for local relief commit- 
tees, and creation of public works schemes in 
which people were paid to build roads, walls, 
piers, and bridges. These measures were effec- 
tive, and no lives were lost in 1 845-46. But the 
bUght returned in the autumn of 1846 and this 
time was far more widespread. 

Peel's Tory (Conservative) government fell 
that summer. For the remainder of the famine 
years, the United Kingdom was ruled by a Whig 
(Liberal) government led by John Russell. The 
Whig government chose public works as the 
main means of relief and also reduced Britain's 
relative financial conttibution toward local re- 
lief. This threw a greater burden on Ireland's 
landlords and private charities and, because of 
the greater need, made relief more difficult for 
people to obtain. 

The consequences of the Wliig policies were 
disastrous. The new public works schemes were 
inefficient and inadequate: bound up in a laby- 
rinthine bureaucracy, they were slow to material- 
ize. When they did, the wages they paid were 
vei-y poor and very late. On top of that, the severe 
weather — heavy snow replacing the usually 
"soft" Irish winter — crushed an already weak- 
ened people. Irish police estimated that in the 
winter of 1846-47 half a million died. In the 





/ -ZzzZ. 


r-^ union hi,.,,maiGLm 


The Act of Union of J 800 
between Britain and Ireland 
was anticipated with 
cynicism even in London. 
Time proved the arrangement 
to he profoundly unequal, to 
Ireland's loss. 

Collection ot Nick Robinson 


early months of 1847 reports of dogs eating dead 
bodies became commonplace. This season of 
mass death became known as Black '47. 

Wholesale want was made worse by the gov- 
ernment's decision to allow merchants to con- 
tinue exporting food from Ireland, and not to im- 

been intended only as a temporary expedient. 
That autumn, key government members de- 
clared the famine to be "over" and that if any fur- 
ther assistance proved to be necessary, it was to 
be paid for by hish taxpayers — a popular posi- 
tion in Britain, which was itself m a financial cri- 


^ T.-KA:^'?iMi»grrHLY Hheet ow Vj^rjcawx^es IS^: iS 


I mere (il ry/lLer MarJcet^ /or /fve />ra/es, t'/f.y^ V V. I 

) urtrerufTijxir/t brutes liy^e ea:^cctIfus'Lor^ili> ^ ^^ 
in, LrricUm w ffM>e up his ChaTTvpane. i^ 

This English cartoon 
illiisti-ates the anger of the 
stoning thousands that 
food — including some 
healthy, blight-fi-ee seed 
potatoes — continued to be 
exported from Ireland during 

Glin Castle. County Limerick 

port food itself — a move made largely to ap- 
pease grain merchants in both England and Ire- 
land, a powerful political lobby. Throughout the 
rest of Europe, governments were closing their 
ports to prevent the export of precious grain. 
John O'Hagan, who lived through the famine 
and later became chairman of the Irish Land 
Commission, articulated a view common among 
his countrypeople, that they had been sacrificed 
for commerce: 

Take it from us, every grain. 
We were made for you to drain; 

Black stan'ation let us feel. 
England must not want a meal! 

In the spring and summer of 1 847. the govem- 
■^1 established soup kitchens in many parts of 
ti u.itr}'. the first time since 1845 that it tack- 
leo du, problem of hunger directly. Although 
some of che soup was httle more than flavored 
■^ iter, the death rate declined. The soup kitchens 
:r"ionhtrated the govemment's ability to pro- 
■v^ comprehensive and cheap aid. but they had 

sis. Giving more money to Irish reUef, wrote a 
contributor to the Times of London would be "as 
ineffecUial as to throw a sackful of gold into one 
of their plentiful bogs." 

Kinder observers bore witness in vain. Mrs. 
Asenath Nicholson, an American evangefist and 
writer who visited Ireland during the famine, de- 
scribed the horrors she saw: 

In every cabin we visited, some were so weak that 
they could never stand nor sit, and when we en- 
tered they saluted us, by crawling on all fours to- 
ward us, and trj'ing to give some token of wel- 

The success of firee-trade radicals within the 
Whig part}' in the 1847 general election further 
undermined the position of those government 
members who supported relief for Ireland. Rus- 
sell interpreted the election results as a criticism 
of his govemment's policies. "We have in the 
opinion of Great Britain done too much for Ire- 
land, and have lost elections for doing so. In Ire- 
land, the reverse," he said. Lord Clarendon, the 

' \L History 1/9^ 

Lord Lieutenant in Ireland, wrote to Russell: 

Esquimaux and New Zealanders are more thrifty 
and industrious than these people who deserve to 
be left to their fate instead of the hardworking 
people of England being taxed for their support, 
but can we do so? . . . We shall equally be blamed 
for keeping them alive or letting them die, and we 
have only to select between the censure of the 
Economists or the Philanthropists. Which do you 

The government knew that depending on 
local Irish taxation to finance any future relief ef- 
forts would lead to suffering, but such a solution 
was generally regarded as acceptable and even 
necessary. Charles Wood, the chancellor of the 
Exchequer, wrote that "except through a purga- 
tory of misery and starvation, I cannot see how 
Ireland is to emerge into a state of anything ap- 
proaching quiet or prosperity." 

The new rules guaranteed misery. Only 
people who occupied less than a quarter of an 
acre of land were now eligible for relief, where 
previously there had been no such stricture. Ten- 
ants had to give up their scraps of land and enter 
harsh workhouses in order to qualify for relief. 
This, together with punitive levels of taxation, 
contributed to an increase in evictions by land- 
lords and in the surrender of lands. Between 
1849 and 1854 at least a quarter of a million 
people were formally evicted. Thousands more 
were thrown out without official sanction. 
Homelessness became as much of a problem as 
hunger. The reappearance of the Wight in 1848 
and again in 1849, along with the arrival of 
cholera, caused the death rate to surge. In some 
parts of the counti-y, the winter of 1849 was as 
dark with death as Black '47 had been. 

Many of the bereaved and the dispossessed 
saw flight as their only salvation. Emigration 
was not a new phenomenon for Ireland, which 
before the famine akeady had one of the highest 
levels in Europe. But famine emigration was dif- 
ferent. Previously it had been an escape route for 
people with some capital and expectations. Now 
it encompassed people from even the poorest so- 
cial groups, and it was carried out in a mood of 
desperation and hysteria. People were willing to 
risk an autumn or winter sea crossing aboard the 
notorious "coffin ships" in an attempt to be any- 
where but Ireland. 

Throughout the famine, many British relief 
officials were highly critical of the government. 
Edward Twistleton, the chief poor law commis- 
sioner, who resigned in 1849, refused to compro- 
mise his belief that suffering and death could 
have been prevented. He emphasized "the com- 
paratively trifling sum with which it is possible 
for this country to spare itself the deep disgrace 
of permitting any of our miserable fellow sub- 
jects. ... to die of starvation." In 1850 a British 
pai^liamentary committee of enquiry concluded. 

"A neglect of public duty has occun-ed and has 
occasioned a state of things disgraceful to a civi- 
lized age and country, for which some authority 
ought to be held responsible, and would have 
long since been held responsible, had these 
things occurred in any union in England." But 
"these things" did not occur in England and, de- 
spite the Act of Union of 1800, the relationship 
between the two countries was profoundly un- 

In 1850 some parts of Ireland got a respite as 
the famine's toll in death and disease began to 
decline — although not in the southwest, where 
the blight struck again in 1 85 1 . Even when good 
harvests returned, the famine's effects reverber- 
ated. The population continued to fall and by 
1900, it was down to about four million, approx- 
imately half of its prefamine level. This was 
largely due to a combination of later and fewer 
maiTiages, as well as unremitting, large-scale 

The famine also changed the structure of land- 
holding in Ireland. The poorest had been evicted. 

The Illustrated London News 
published numerous eviction 
scenes duirng the famine. 
This one was in Kihush, 
County Clare, in 1848. The 
thatched roof was torn down 
to render the house 
uninhabitable, a common 

Illustrated London News 

but at the opposite end of the social scale, many 
landlords were financially ruined, cmshed by the 
burden of falling income from rents and spiral- 
ing taxation to pay for poor relief. Miiny were 
forced to sell out. But the new landlords were no 
more popular with their tenants, and the agricul- 
tural sector in postfamine IreUuid experienced 
conflicts between tenant and landlord, as well as 
between fanner and landless laborer The coun- 
try would reap a bitter political harvest. 

"The Famine yielded like the ice of the north- 
em seas," novelist Edith Martin wrote. "It riin 
like melted snow into the veins of Ireland for 
many years afterwards." □ 


36 Natural Histck f 1/96 


•Hilil^ .BESS 


jvi-M. .J=inzt. T^:==L-^^jf^f^ ii ' 4ilran- Tfr 


TfrbDC'tSl^ . — - 



Potato&d cultivated 
in England 1580 

Potatoes firdt grown 
in Ireland 1586 


-'-" — •" I "f^: 1^,11^1 1 1 1 




^=^-=^ =^!^&P: 

Potatoes firdt grown in 
Europe 1570-1580 

=EEs-/:S:^^yCr"%p^^-^fi^7-i ,^r^^| 





bv Weiihua Lii and James Lazell 

How did an innocuous Mexican weed-eating beetle become an 
agricultural scourge of global proportions? 

ontrary to popular belief, 
potato beetles had nothing 
, to do with Ireland's Great 
Potato Famine in the 
nineteenth century, which 
was caused by a fungus. The potato bee- 
tle's romance with the potato is an interest- 
ing case of rapid and recent evolution, 
whose genetic mechanisms are just be- 
coming known. A unique sequence of 
events that involved conquistadors, cow- 
boys, cattle, bison, and trans-Atlantic sail- 
ing ships brought the insect and tuber to- 
gether in the American Midwest about 
1 820. The consequences of that momen- 

tous meeting have been investigated by 
naturalists, historians, and, most recently, 

When the Spaniards first conquered the 
Mexican plateau and introduced domesti- 
cated cattle there about four centuries ago, 
an obscure leaf beetle, less than half an 
inch long and with ten dark stripes, fed un- 
noticed upon a common weed with spiny 
seedcases, or burs. It did not attack potato 
plants, for none grew there; the tubers 
could not thrive in the Mexican climate 
without modem agricultural techniques. 

But the beetle, one of about twenty re- 
lated Mexican species of the genus Lep- 

tinotarsa, lived on the burweed Solaimm 
rostratitm. a member of the genus that in- 
cludes potatoes. Most of these beetle pop- 
ulations remain in Mexico today. During 
wet seasons, the females cement their eggs 
to burweed leaves, which ultimately serve 
as larders for the hatching larvae. Usually 
they lay about twenty eggs, although indi- 
viduals have been known to lay as many as 
five hundred at a time. The adults' bright 
colors warn birds and lizards to avoid eat- 
ing them: when bitten, the insects emit a 
foul liquid. Their larvae are usually bright 
yellow and blend in well with the bur- 
weed's yellow blossoms. 

The voyage of the beetle started about 
1680, when Mexican vaqueros began 
driving herds of cattle 
northward for sale in 
Texas. Clinging to the 
animals' coats, burs of S. 
rostratum came with 
them. Often, the plants 
germinated around cor- 
rals and stock pens. 
Once the burweed be- 
came established in cen- 
tral Texas, the seeds 
could also hitch rides on 
migrating bison. The 
burs stuck even more 
firmly to the bison's 
dense, woolly coat. 

The potato — the third 
player in the drama — 
had yet to arrive. When 
Francisco Pizarro "dis- 
covered" Peru in 1531, 
he found that the Incas 
cultivated an edible, 
highly transportable 
tuber, Solamim tubero- 
sum, on the Andean 
slopes. After receiving 
permission from the king 
of Spain, he returned to 
Peru in 1533. looted the 
city of Cajamarca. killed 
the Inca emperor, 
claimed the country for 
Spain, and used pototoes 
to feed his Inca slaves 
and prisoners. 

The history of the 
potato is murky for most 
of the sixteenth century. 
A French herbalist named Clusius re- 
ported receiving two tubers in 1588, and a 
brief description was published by Caspar 
Bauhin in 1596. Not until 1597, however, 
was S. tuberosum clearly described and 
depicted in the Herball of British botanist 

John Gerard. Many history books repeat 
the story that Sir Francis Drake or Sir Wal- 
ter Raleigh (or both) introduced potatoes 
to Europe as a food crop in about 1580. An 
old Irish folksong recounts 

The brave Walter Raleigh, 

Queen Bess's own knight 

Brought here from Virginia 

The root of delight 

By him it was planted 

At Youghal so gay; 

An' sure Munster praties [potatoes] 

Are famed to this day. 

But historians have found many incon- 
sistencies in the popular legends about 
Drake and Raleigh. As early as the 1570s, 




Varieties ofLeptinotarsa beetles, including red and yellow laiTae, as 
illustrated in the classic 1906 study by Willliam Lawrence Tower 

for instance, Spanish-grown potatoes were 
listed regulariy on a hospital's grocery lists 
in Seville, Spain, where they were already 
a kitchen staple. Girolamo (Hieronymus) 
Cardano. an Italian botanist and physician, 
visited Scotland in 1552 and may have 

transported S. tuberosum there. We do 
know that the tuber was introduced to Ire- 
land in 1586, and that over the next two 
centuries it became well established in the 
British Isles. By 1719, seed stock was ex- 
ported back to the New Worid from Ire- 
land and was commercially grown in Lon- 
donderry, New Hampshire — the first 
record of an "Irish" potato in America. (In 
the historical literature, the "true" potato S. 
tuberosum has often been confused with 
Ipomoea batatas, the sweet potato of the 
morning glory family. Gerard called this 
plant Batata virginiana. "potato of Vir- 
ginia," but no evidence exists that it was 
being grown there.) 

Meanwhile, the beetle was making its 
way northward from the 
American Southwest, 
reaching the Great Plains 
by 1819. There, it was 
first written up in the sci- 
entific literature by 
Philadelphia naturalist 
Thomas Say, who was 
part of an expedition ex- 
ploring the western 
wilderness, including the 
Rocky Mountains. Say 
collected ten-lined bee- 
tles when he camped on 
the Missouri River at the 
Nebraska-Iowa border. 
Although beetles, bur- 
weeds, and potatoes had 
akeady arrived in the re- 
gion, the beetles had not 
yet switched from bur- 
weeds to potato vines. 

Forty years later, they 
had jumped from bur- 
weeds to potato plants, 
and after 1859, the beetle 
population exploded. By 
1872, beetles along 
America's northeastern 
coast were likened to a 
biblical plague. Mer- 
chant ships battened 
their hatches against the 
swarming insects; a New 
York Central train was 
stopped on its track; va- 
cationers fled their cot- 
tages as windrows of rot- 
ting beetle carcasses 
polluted beaches. In New England, the in- 
sects wreaked havoc on potato crops. 
Known as Iowa or Colorado potato bee- 
tles, they crossed the Atlantic to England 
by 1875. Over the next century they 
spread throughout Europe and into Asia. 


38 Nafural History 1/96 

About the turn of the century, entomol- 
ogist Wilham Lawrence Tower, at the Uni- 
versity of Chicago, established scientifi- 
cally that the beetle's origin was indeed 
Mexico, not Colorado or Iowa, as many 
naturalists then thought. Tower came to 
believe that the potato beetle, with its 
newly developed preference for potato 
plants, was a variety that had recently 
evolved. While Mexican populations con- 
tained mostly yellow larvae, he found one 
variety at Toluca that produced many red 
larvae — thought today to be a recurring 
mutation — which he considered a "newly 
developing species." 

For the next eighty years, little work 
was done on potato beetle evolution. 
Then, about fifteen years ago. Ting H. 
Hsiao, a geneticist at Utah State Univer- 
sity in Logan, began to investigate the in- 
sects' heredity. He discovered that all ten- 
lined populations looked chromosomally 
similar, but in the potato eaters a piece of 
the second pair of chromosomes had 
shifted. This reversal of the positions of 
the genes — known as an inversion — was 
inherited by aU subsequent generations of 
beetles. Hsiao, however, could not associ- 
ate this chromosomal difference with 
potato-eating behavior. 

Later, working with biochemist J. W. 
Jacobson, Hsiao compared genetic simi- 
larities between several populations of 
beetles gathered from all over North 
America, including Mexico. They ex- 
tracted enzymes (isozymes) produced by 
the beetles' genes and ran electric currents 
through them, a technique that displays 
biochemical differences. The result: a 
measurable but small difference between 
the Mexican population and all others. 
Only one gene locus differed. No one yet 
knows if this gene is on the inverted chro- 
mosome or whether it is the one that en- 
abled the beetle to jump to potatoes. 

Later mitochondrial DNA analysis by 
entomologist Geoffrey Zehnder, and his 
team at the University of Nebraska at Lin- 
coln, confirmed that Mexican lineages of 
ten-lined beetles were ancient, while all 
the potato eaters are of recent origin. 

In the early 1990s, entomologists Wen- 
hua Lu and Patrick Logan, at the Univer- 
sity of Rhode Island, began experimenting 
with the food preferences of beetle popu- 
lations. Feeding behavior, they found, was 
heritable. Before crossbreeding, only 
about 30 percent of the Mexican stock 
would eat potato plants, while 100 percent 
of the Rhode Island population did so. 
When they crossbred ten-lined beetles 
from Morelos, Mexico, with the potato- 

eating variety collected in Kingston, 
Rhode Island, however, the first genera- 
tion of hybrid larvae were all red, as their 
Rhode Island parents had been, but in the 
second generation, larval color varied — 
with nine reds for every seven yellows. 
Those beetles that were red as larvae were 
generally potato eaters; the reason for this 
correlation between feeding behavior and 
larval color is still not known. 

Lu and Logan, however, were able to 
use larval color as a genetic marker be- 
tween the two populations; they compared 
the hybrids for their genetic propensity to 
eat potato plants. Between 60 and 80 per- 
cent of hybrid larvae would feed on pota- 
toes, which means that potato eating was 
affected by a dominant allele or alleles de- 
rived from Rhode Island parents. This ge- 
netic dominance partly accounts for the 
rapid, worldwide spread of the potato-eat- 
ing variety. 

As larvae from the hybrid beetles ma- 
tured, other sorts of genetic patterns be- 
came evident: egg-laying ability is as her- 
itable as feeding preferences or larval 
color. Adult hybrid females in the first 
generation would feed or lay eggs on ei- 
ther burweed or potato plants. However, 
when second generation adult females 
were given only potato plants to eat, for 
every nine that were able to lay eggs, 
seven could not. The latter group laid eggs 
after consuming only one hearty meal of 
wild Mexican burweed. Since reproduc- 
tive ability was affected only by what the 
females ate as adults, Lu and Logan be- 
lieve that specific chemicals in burweed 
may trigger normal egg laying. They have 
concluded that egg-laying ability seems 
best explained as the result of two genes, 
each of which affects the expression of the 
other — the same pattern of heredity that 
determines larval color. 

No one yet knows how many of the 
genes necessaiy to produce potato eaters 
were already present in the Mexican bee- 
tle population in 1819, forty years before 
the infamous "potato beetle" emerged as a 
major pest. Nor do we know whether or 
how many mutations may have made the 
change possible. But genetic differences 
between ancestral Mexican beetles and the 
potato-eating variety appear to be rela- 
tively few. The two populations can still 
crossbreed and are, therefore, subspecies 
or geographic races, rather than full-blown 
species. Thus, a very minor genetic differ- 
ence enabled some beetles to switch plant 
hosts. But the beetle population explosion 
that followed had a major impact on our 
agriculture and history. D 

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On cm island fast losing its forests, a threatened bird depends on a bounty of figs 

by Margaret F. Kinnaird 

Just east of Borneo lies the orchid-shaped is- 
land of Sulawesi. Like many tropical regions of 
Southeast Asia, this once lush Indonesian island, 
formerh' known as the Celebes, has lost most of 
its original forests. Ninet}' percent of the richest 
lowland forest has been converted to agriculture, 
making Sulawesi's remaining natural areas 
among the most threatened ecosystems on the 
earth. The rain-forest-dwelling fauna in jeopardy 
include nati\e hombills. birds named for the 
huge casques atop their bills. 

In Indonesia, several hornbill species are at 
risk: in the Philippines, some island populations 
ha\'e alread\^ disappeared. On Sulawesi's north- 
ernmost tip. the Tangkoko-Dua Sudara Nature 
Reser\'e remains, for now. an oasis. While the 
surrounding Wiau forest has been whittled away 
in just the past ten years, the more inaccessible 
slopes of the Tangkoko \'olcano. rising from the 
Sulawesi Sea to an ele\'ation of 3.400 feet, are 
stiU hea\'il}' forested. Within that forest li\'es the 
highest density of hombills ever recorded. 

When I arri\'ed in 1992. the red-knobbed 

Tlie hornbill flew to a dead 
tree, inserted liis enomioiis 
bill, knob and all. into a hole 
and began siuldng. As he 
pidled away, holding a 
biilikiit red fig, I conld just 
discern ihe peering eye of liis 
mate inside the hole. 

40 NATUR.-U. History 1/96 

hombills of Tangkoko had never been studied in 
the wild, and scientists knew virtually nothing 
about their ecology. Even the famed naturalist 
Alfred Russel Wallace, who documented the 
habits of many animals from this region in his 
1869 book. The Malay Archipelago, devoted 
only one paragraph to these conspicuous birds. 
Within the hombill family, twenty-three species 
inhabit the savannas and forests of Africa, while 
twent}-seven more species are found in Asia, 
most in tropical rain forest. A mere four species 
of hombills. including red knobs, are found to 
the east of the biogeographical boundary be- 
tween Borneo and Sulawesi known as Wallace's 
line. To the west of this line Uve typical Eurasian 
flora and fauna; to the east is found a quite dif- 
ferent Australasian array of species. 

The Tangkoko red knobs are among the 
largest of the hombills. weighing in at more than 
fi\'e pounds. Extremely vocal, they produce a va- 
riet}' of honks, croaks, squawks, and barks, the 
loudest of which can be heard more than 300 
yards away. Many a traveler, present and past, 
has referred to them as "flying dogs." 

M>- first census showed that the north side of 
the Tangkoko volcano supports as many as 200 
hombills per square mile, almost four times the 
density of all seven hombill species on the 
neighboring island of Bomeo and six times the 
density of forest hombills in Uganda. About one- 
quarter of these tumed out to be birds that nested 
in the immediate area; the others were nonbreed- 
ing residents and transients. One possible expla- 
nation for these unexpected numbers was that 
the birds were crowding into the area as they fled 
from the continued destmction of the surround- 
ing forest. But because abundant hombills were 
reported in this area in the late 1970s, before the 
neighboring forests were destroyed. I thought 
that a second possibihty for the concentration of 
red knobs was more likely. 

In Tangkoko. red knobs can satisf\' their vora- 
cious appetite for fleshy fmits, particularly the 

■'■^■- V- '' •■ .o** 

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^r -9* 


\/.:--^ ' --A 





,<^W' .,*,»i^,-,< 











1 -. .^SiS-.- 



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Red-knobbed hornbills nest 
in high tree cavities, above, 
which they- seal, leaving 
only a slit for food deliveij 
to the female and young 
inside. Ensconced in her 
nest, a female builds the 
seaL right, using her 
excrement as a paste. 

tigs that abound on the volcanic slopes. To find 
out if this was what attracted them to Tangkoko, 
I monitored monthly fruit production and corre- 
sponding hombill numbers, but even a casual 
walk up the volcano was convincing. In 
Tangkoko. strangler figs weave their roots 
around canopy trees, often engulfing their hosts. 
Clusters of figs droop from branches or protrude 
like cauliflower heads directly from trunks. 
Some are the size of peas: others as big as plums. 
Colors range from blood red and day-glow or- 
ange to lime green. The thick, sweet aroma of 
rotting figs permeates the air. Of the fort)'-odd 
species of figs growing in Tangkoko. more than 
thirt}' contribute to the hornbills" cornucopia. 

I found that red knobs rehsh figs year-round, 
with the biggest and reddest fruits being their fa- 
vorites. But during the breeding season, figs are 
vital to the birds and are the most important item 
in the red knob diet. From courtship, when males 
entice females with presentations of cherr>'-red 
figs, to the final stage of nesting, figs are the pri- 
mar>- source of nourishment and are delivered to 
the nest ca\'it}' by the male bird. 

I first wimessed this one morning while I was 
engaged in the tedious and potentially neck- 
breaking task of estimating numbers of fruits at 
the top of a 120-foot tree. I was distracted by a 
loud honk and a deep, jetlike swoosh of wings 
above my head. I dropped my data book and 
grabbed my binoculars. Sitting a mere fifteen 
feet above me was a large hombill — identifiable 
as a male by his large, red knob — his oversized 
yellow bill swaying from side to side. The hom- 
bill flew to a dead tree, inserted his enormous 
bill, knob and all. into a large hole and began 
shaking. As he pulled away, holding a brilliant 
red fig in his bill. I reahzed the hole was closed 
except for a narrow sht: behind this slit. I could 
just discem the peering eye of a bird inside. Un- 
w ittingly. 1 had found the first of many red- 
knobbed hombill nests. The male had been shak- 
ing as he coughed up figs, which he had carried 
in his throat pouch and delivered to his incarcer- 
ated mate in the nest. 

Hornbills are unique in their nest sealing be- 
havior. All species of hombills nest in tree cavi- 
ties or rock crevices, and apart from two species 
of ground hombills. all seal the nest entrance, 
leaving a narrow sht through which the confined 
female and her chicks — a single chick in the case 
of red knobs — recei\'e food from the male. The 
cavit}' seal is usually made up of mud delivered 
by the male, but the female often applies finish- 
ing touches with her own excrement. I found that 
the Tangkoko red knobs seal their nest only with 
fecal material: fig seeds are the cement that holds 
the digested mash together. This is possibly a 
local adaptation to Tangkoko's sandy, volcanic 
soil, which ne\'er becomes muddy even during 
the rainiest months. 

Nest sealino is believed to have evolved as a 

42 Natltr,'^ History 1/96 

form of nest defense against predators. Alterna- 
tively, such behavior may be crucial for protec- 
tion against other intruding hombills. In Uganda, 
where nest sites appear to be limited, competi- 
tion between black-and-white casqued hombills 
for cavities is so great that intruders sometimes 
evict resident pairs in intense battles that can re- 
suh in the death of the nesting pair's chick. 

The drama is not so great in Sulawesi. Char- 
acteristic of the region east of Wallace's line, Su- 
lawesi is largely lacking in mammals, particu- 
larly small predatory carnivores such as cats. 
Only two species of birds of prey powerful 
enough to take a hombill chick inhabit the is- 
land; these appear to specialize in capturing ro- 
dents and have never been seen near a nest. 
Snakes and black "apes" (actually crested black 
macaques) are more likely hombill predators. By 
positioning the nest some ninety feet up straight- 
boled trees, hombills likely deter a bulky climber 
such as a reticulated python, and a female hom- 
bilFs beak can be a formidable weapon even 
against a large macaque. I have witnessed these 
inquisitive, near-tailless macaques peering into 
hombill nests only to be quickly rebuffed by a 
swift stab from a female's bill. Harassment by 
other hombills is rare in Tangkoko and results in 
little more than honks and brays by the resident 
male or a chase of one hundred yards or less. 

Why then, do red knobs seal their nests? A 
likely explanation is that nest sealing is a 
holdover from earlier times. The red knob's an- 
cestors presumably originated west of Wallace's 
hne in nearby Borneo, with its full complement 
of predators. Protection against them would have 
been critical for nesting success. In the nearly 
predator-free paradise of Sulawesi, red knobs 
may still seal their nests simply because it is not 
taxing to do so and entails no disadvantage. But 
it may also serve to enforce fidelity. 

The sealed-in nests of hombills have been de- 
scribed as the ultimate in male chauvinism. Like 
a Cmsader marching off to war with the key to 
his wife's chastity belt, a male bird cloisters his 
female, forcing her to depend on him for sur- 
vival. It has even been reported that the female is 
not strong enough to escape without her mate's 
help. In reality, the female incarcerates herself, 
often contributing her own excrement to build 
the cell door, and when the time is right, she frees 
herself. The female, not the male, appears to 
have the upper hand, employing the "bon-bon 
strategy" — she lounges in the cavity and de- 
pends on the male to fetch her figgy treats. By 
closing herself in, she exacts her male's dedica- 
tion and procures a commitment from him to 
provide for his offspring. Because the male must 
do all the shopping, he has no time to maintain 
two households, and the female therefore can be 
certain of his fidelity. 

The period of female confinement in hombills 
is highly variable, lasting as long as 142 days in 

Tlic female hoinhill depends 
on the male to feteh her 
figgx treats. As he has no 
tune to maintain two 
households, the female ean 
be certain of Iris fidelity. 

Tangkoko-Dua \ ; 
Sudara Reserve. 

Borneo Sul^j 


New Guinea 


\ Timor 
Indian Sun,ba 

Ocean Australia 

Hornbills and Native Culture 

Hombills still play a role in Southeast Asian cultures, although traditions 
have changed with the times. In Borneo, members of hill tribes once regarded 
the Kenyalang, an icon in the image of the rhinoceros hombill, as the deliverer 
of souls to the upper world. Among the Iban people of western Borneo, a spe- 
cial week-long Kenyalang ceremony is celebrated at irregular intervals of five 
to seven years. The ceremony, which includes dancing, drinking, and parading 
speciaUy carved images of hombills around the longhouse, starts only after a 
signal has been delivered in a dream to several people. 

Today, although these beliefs are held by fewer Bomeans. the elegant, fluid 
movements of the Kenyalang dance are still practiced by the younger genera- 
tions, and animist images of the Kenyalang can be seen adorning church walls. 
Unfortunately, such traditional ceremonies as the Kenyalang dance take a toll 
on the living birds. Female Kenyalang dancers of Malaysia carry up to ten hom- 
bill tail feathers in each hand. Supplying a full complement of twent>- dancers 
can thus cost up to eighty hombills. 

On the island of Sumba, just south of Sulawesi, people historically ate the 
meat of the endemic Sumba hombill as a remedy for rheumatism and asthma. 
Today this hombill is no longer hunted for its flesh. Because of its monogamous 
habits, it is respected as a symbol of fidelity and has been adopted as a mascot 
in western Sumba. 

In Sulawesi, the feathers and casques of red-knobbed hombills traditionally 
decorated headdresses and bairel-shaped drums that were beaten during the 
Cakalele, a feverish dance that prepared Minahasan waixiors for banle. The 
large, red casques were believed to impart power and insure a warrior's in^'in- 
cibility. Today the casques are considered signs of peace. The Cakalele has be- 
come highly stylized and is performed as a greering ceremony for important 
visitors iind officials. — M. F. K. 


A male red knob glides 
oyer the forest canopy, 
above. The birds' 
unmelodious honks and 
barks have earned them 
the epithet "flying 
dogs'.' Opposite page: 
A hornbill in the 
Tangkoko resen'e 
perches 130 feet above 
the forest floor 

the black-and-white casqued hombill of Uganda 
and as Uttle as 50 days for the Tockiis hombills of 
southern Africa. In most species, the female 
breaks out before the chick fledges: then helps 
her mate meet the chicks ever increasing de- 
mands for food. In other species, such as the 
bushy-crested hombill of Southeast Asia, the fe- 
male seems fully accommodated to her sentence, 
emerging only when the chick is ready to fledge. 
The red-knobbed hombill's confinement lasts 
some ninety days. Although she reheves some of 
the demands on her mate by emerging before 
fledging and foraging on her own, the female red 
knob is not especially helpful in providing food 
for her offspring, and generally contributes less 
than 5 percent of her nestling's food. Several 
times I have seen a female steal from her mate's 
cache as he attempted to pass it to the chick. 

Male hombills can be impressive providers. 
Like many other fruit-eating hombiUs. the red 
knob often collects a pouchful of items before 

By dispersing seeds, the 
hombills cultivate their o\w\ 
lush garden in Tangkoko. 

rnfortniiately, they can t keep 
price mth fires and axes, as 
hmiiaiis steadilv encroach 
upon the birds' small realm. 

delivering a load to the nest. From behind blinds 
constructed of giant pahn fronds, I frequently 
watched as males arrived looking as though they 
suffered from goiters, their throat pouches 
stretched taut with immense fruit loads and an 
occasional squirming insect. By counting the 
number of fruits delivered at a feeding and mul- 
tiplying by the mean weights of the fruits, I cal- 
culated that loads as heavy as a pound were 
being airlifted by the male, a ballast of nearly 20 
percent of his body weight. 

The abundance of figs in Tangkoko largely 
supports the high hombill densities. The density 
does fluctuate, however. Painstaking monthly 
counts of fruiting trees show that as more figs 
fruit, more hombills gather to partake of the 
bounty. Unlike many trees, figs may fruit at any 
time of the year and thus are a reliable resource, 
particularly when other fruits are out of season. 
Hombills do eat other fruits with gusto, but 
bumper crops of sugary berries or oily avocado- 
like drupes, unlike figs, have no impact on the 
number of hombills in the area. 

As hombills devour figs, they ingest the tiny 
seeds and later defecate them unharmed. In 
crooks and branches high in the canopy and on 
the lip of many nest cavities, fig tree seedlings 
sprout in abundance. The larger seeds of fmits 
such as nutmegs and wild mangoes are spit out, 
often more than an hour after the fmit is har- 
vested. By that time, a hombfll can have traveled 
a mile or two from the parent tree and deposited 
the seed in a spot where it can more likely ger- 
minate free of competition. The relationship of 
hombills and fmits is thus reciprocal; the red 
knobs are critical agents of seed dispersal, culti- 
vating their own lush garden in Tangkoko. 

The forest regeneration fostered by these birds 
cannot, unfortunately, keep pace with fires and 
axes, as humans steadily encroach upon the 
bhds' small realm. Most hombill populations, 
which inhabit endangered ecosystems, are in de- 
cline. The reasons are complex, but the root of 
the problem is loss of critical habitat. In such 
places as Sulawesi, timber revenues may supply 
more than 95 percent of the provincial govern- 
ment's income. More commonly, burgeoning 
human populations satisfy flieir agriculuiral re- 
quirements by felling or severely degrading pris- 
tine forest. As forest loss proceeds, parks and na- 
ture reserves become isolated islands of forest 
and, consequently, support smaller and more 
relict populations of plants and animals. These 
isolated reserves are prone to catastrophes such 
as drought, fire, and volcanism or the slow, re- 
lentless onslaught of humankind. Because red- 
knobbed hombills are losing habitat within, as 
well as outside, protected areas, their future, 
even in Tangkoko. is uncertain. If Sulawesi con- 
tinues to lose forest at the present rate, the ma- 
jestic hombills that bark over the Tangkoko 
canopy wiU be only a memory. n 

44 N.\Ti.iRAL History 1/96 

i';k. '.J ' ... 

•"\. ^ 

The Green 

'f\}\^' i 


i.Mft*^ .-i^^v 


Although the 
turtle hunters' 
meagei; the 
tviliiof theh 


riijima.Bdoks.'- 1 995) . 

ATURAL History 1./96 

y I southern Bali, ancient rituals create a modern shortage 

Text and photographs by Charles I iiidsay 

r ..,:. ^^. ,1 zn 

Indonesia, whose beaches are ancestral nesting 

' grounds for green turtles, is now one of the most 

populous nations on earth. Stretching from the Indian 

Ocean to the Pacific, it is an archipelago of several 

thousand islands rimmed by endless beaches, 

uninhabited and inhabited, black and white. In the 

middle lies Bali , a land of myriad festivals that call 

for blood sacrifices. Green turtles have become the 

\ most valuable offering. In Balinese myth, a turtle is 

the foundation of the universe. Unfortunately, the 

:: mythical turtle is likely to outlast the living one. 


-. -^ 


"mm t m^ 

two green mnies n 
other after mating. 

Irs flippers tied, a turtle is 
carried across the beach 
from a fishing boat to a 
holding cage, above. Other 
tiinles await slaughter, right, 
in kitciiens at Tanjung 
Benoa. in southern Bali. 
Opposite page: All through 
the night, turtle meat is 
prepared in mairy ways for a 
village celebration. 

Ill soiitliem 
Belli, tiulles 
tue Sciciificed 
during major 
festh tils aiid 
for rites of 

The turtle merchants are based in Tanjung 
Benoa. a southern port. Taking orders in ad\'ance 
in person or by telegram, they arrange for the tur- 
tle deliveries to precede the important festi\e 
days of the Hindu calendar. The green turde pop- 
ulation that once nested on Bah itself has been 
extirpated, so the merchants must outfit crew s of 
hunters with boats and gear and dispatch them to 
the far reaches of the Indonesian archipelago. 
The mixed crew s are fishermen from Sulawesi. 
the Moluku Islands. Lombok. Sumbawa. Flores. 
Timor. Tanimhar. and hian Ja}'a. On the fisher- 
men's return. \he merchants talh" the Ii\ing tur- 
tles, and the purchase price is balanced against 
the fishermen's debt for using the boat. .Although 
the fishermen's net income is measer. the \ alue 

of their cargo is high, and they must venture far- 
ther from home as mrtle populations diminish. 
(Found worldwide in tropical seas, the green tur- 
tle is considered an endangered species h\ the 
International Union for the Consenation of Na- 
ture. Destruction of nesting grounds and rising 
demand for turtle meat and eggs are considered 
major factors in the species' decline. ) The farther 
the hunters go, the more mrtles die on the retum 
trip. As many as 50 percent die coming from 
Irian Ja}"a. ten days' travel from the east. 

In Tanjung Benoa. h\e turtles are sorted by 
size and penned on the tidal flats just behind the 
merchants' quarters. .A.t high tide, they swim in a 
shifting film of sewage and oU. .At low tide, they 
lie gasping on the sand as they are checked ON'er 
by prospecti\"e buyers. The large ones sur\'i\e al- 
most indefinitely this way. while the small turtles 
perish and are butchered at nearb\' food stalls. 

Tourists straddling a long rubber "banana 
boat" are towed through the harbor. They are 
then led to a "turtle consenation center" to take 
pictures of one another sitting on large greens, 
passing by the merchants' caged turtles as 
though blind to aU but the brochure images that 
lured them to Bah in the first place. 

Each morning I rise earl} and begin the da\' 
hanging around the turtle merchants. They sen'e 
spic>' turtle, prepared se\eral ways, with rice. It 
is colored green b} the fat for which the green 
turtle is named, ^^'e learned to read the standard 
Balinese-Hindu calendar and now know when 
auspicious festi\"e da\s occur, thus predicting the 
da\ s w hen the turtles w ill be purchased. 

Village representatives arrive with middlemen 
to arrange deals in ad\ance of a festival. .A chalk- 
board records the sales. I ask about the nature of 
the festi\al — it is a rite of passage for some of 
the \'illage's children — and for permission to at- 
tend. The mnles wUl be loaded the following af- 
temoon. I prepare my cameras and wait. 

.As I dri\e behind the middleman's pickup 
through the traffic and confusion of Denpasar. 
Bali's capital cit>-. I pass resort signs on the road 
to the countr}'side. This is one of Indonesia's 
most prosperous areas, with sateOite dishes on 
man\' rooftops, dehvering CNN and MT\'. .As I 
follow, ttirtle urine drips from the truck's bed 
onto the hot asphalt. 

.After asking directions, we head down a dirt 
road into a small, well-kept \illage. \\'e stop at 
the banjar. the community" 's administrati\'e cen- 
ter and meeting place. The dri\"er introduces me 
and sa\s I'd like to sta\- and photograph the fes- 
ti\al. The response is one of welcome. No 
tourists come here. My host is concemed about 
where I'll stay without a hotel nearby and is 
pleased when I sa}' that since he won't be sleep- 
ing this e\ening. neither will I. Balinese are 
supremely hospitable and \o\t to share their fes- 
ti\ ities. Proud to ha\e a foreigner attend, the 
crow d 2i\'es me coftee and show s me around. 

48 Natul-u. History 1/96 











- w 



t,.> •^'^. 

•V- * 



To mv 




is tliis tiutle's 


During Nangluk Merana, a 
festival intended to keep 
calamity at bay. families 
collect holy water on the 
beach atLebih, below. 
Segehans, small offerings to 
the gods, ancestors, and evil 
spirits, are placed next to a 
sacrificial turtle, right. 

Three large turtles are unloaded from the 
truck. In a symboUc welcoming, the shells are 
marked with white crosses. This is a major pur- 
chase for the community, which turns over 
550,000 rupiah (about $275) to the driver. The 
latter bids me luck and drives away. 

Turtles are slaughtered in southern Bali dur- 
ing major festivals and for rites of passage. The 
latter occur for a child who reaches three 
months, for teeth filing (a coming of age), for 
marriage, and when the ashes of cremation are 
dispersed, hi this village, prayers are being held 
by the sea for thirteen children who have re- 
cently reached one hundred and five days of age. 
The families have arranged to share the rituals 
and the costs of the celebration through the com- 
munity administration. I watch as women carry 
tall offerings on their heads to the house of one 
of the wealthier parents, who is acting as host. 

The night before the main festival day, thirty 
men gather at the banjar to discuss local issues 
and socialize. The turtles are laid upside down 
on a platform under fluorescent lights. Without 
killing the animal first, two men cut at the margin 
of a turtle's yellow underside. The turtle's head 
retracts, but its flippers have been tied together 
so that it cannot thrash. The men lift the hard 
belly cover, exposing muscles and organs, in- 
cluding a prominent beating heart. They scoop 
out the blood, forcing the ladle down into the 
beast. The jugular veins are cut, perhaps to drain 
more blood. The heart pumps on long after it has 
been removed, hence the pervasive and ancient 
belief in the fortitude of turtles. To my hosts, 
reincarnation is this turtle's destination. 

A localized blackout occurs. Cigarettes glow 
like fireflies, the pot boils, and the glow of Den- 
pasar illuminates the sky to the east. The banjar 
headman prepares offerings: thirteen packets of 
minced turtle organs, one for each child. We 

leave by flashlight as he places the packets at the 
"spirit house" at Ore comer of the yard. 

Cooking continues through the night, as mul- 
tiple dishes are prepared for the next day's many 
guests. Strong coffee is served at regular inter- 
vals. With dawn everyone dresses traditionally in 
a fine shirt, sarong, sash, and headband. 

1 continue my own ritual, retuming before the 
morning is over to the turtle dealers, clarifying 
what I've leamed from the village priests, and 
waiting for other festivals. I try not to be judg- 



mental, but I've learned that the turtle merchant 
eats pig on special occasions, as do most Bali- 
nese in the north, which makes me think domes- 
tic animals could fulfill most uses of the turtle. 
Mass turtle slaughter seems an ancient custom in 
Bali. In fact it is not. The practice has developed 
over the last hundred years. Turtle meat has be- 
come a luxury item to honor guests with, and the 
animals' decimation is a modem problem, accel- 
erated by a growing population. 
My friend Bapa Kerig tells tells me that in 

about 1958 he witnessed a variation of the ritual 
for a child reaching three months of age. The fa- 
ther had read in some obscure religious text that 
a child should ride a live turtle three times 
around the Jaganata Temple in Denpasar The 
man rented live turtles for his children and then 
returned them after the ceremony. 

Bapa Kerig thought this was strange, but an 
elderiy priest confirmed that blood sacrifice was 
not the only option. In the old days, turtles were 
sometimes set free as part of rituals. D 




Pert of Call 

by Daniel Stiles 

"Things are changing too fast, Bwana 
Danieli. The old life is being lost because 
of too many tourists and too much poli- 
tics," lamented Sheik Omari Ahmad. We 
were sipping coffee on the roof of his 
eighteenth-century coral-stone house in 
Lamu, the port town of Lamu Island off 

the coast of Kenya. To the east, over some 
rooftops, I could glimpse a few small 
dhows — their lateen sails full and strain- 
ing — chasing whitecaps in a cerulean sea. 
Omari belongs to the patrician elite of 
Swahili society, that synthesis of African 
and Arabian culture that evolved on 
Africa's east coast, from Somalia to Mo- 
zambique and the Comoros Islands. 
Omari traces his ancestry to Sultan Husain 
bin Ah of Shiraz, in Persia (now Iran). 
Legend has it that the sultan's seven sons 
left Shiraz a thousand years ago to found 
the major Swahih trading cities. 

"Everything has to change," I replied 
lamely. "It's the way of the world." 

When I first visited Lamu (population 
8,000) in 1976, 1 thought that I had mirac- 
ulously entered a century long past — I was 
sure that Sinbad the Sailor had moored his 
dhow in the port. Donkeys carried loads 
through the town's narrow lanes. The only 
motor vehicle was the district commis- 
sioner's Land-Rover, which carried him 
the few hundred yards along the water- 
front between his home and office. There 
was no television. Often there was no elec- 
tricity or running water due to the poor 


Merchanrs and buyers fivm various cultural backgrounds mingle in a Lamu Island marketplace. 

'■li photographs by Wendy Stone; Gamma Liaison 

.'52 Nattjral History 1/96 

Lamu Island, Kenya 

-I lias 

1 dec- 

maintenance of existing facilities. The 
Swahili women were veiled head to toe in 
black satin, revealing only their eyes, lined 
with kohl. Every morning at about 4:30 
and again at dawn, muezzins called the 
Muslim faithful to prayer from more than 
twenty mosques. That and the cocks crow- 
ing and people shouting made sleeping 
late impossible. 

Many things were the same today (the 
muezzins with their amplified loudspeak- 
ers were even louder). But now the skyline 
was pierced by television aerials and by 
nontraditional house additions, built on 

the roofs to cope with a growing popula- 
tion of about 1 2,000. The town has begun 
to sprawl onto the sand dunes beyond the 
fourteenth-century pillar tomb that used to 
mark the town limits. And while in the 
past, nothing seemed to perturb the tran- 
quil people, not even water and power 
cuts, now Muslim fundamentalism and re- 
cently introduced multiparty democracy 
in Kenya were stirring up emotions. 

The IPK, the banned Islamic Party of 
Kenya, was trying to gain power with 
Muslims and politicize the Swahili. 
Coastal Muslims had long felt that they 
were being forgotten by the largely Chris- 
tian national government in Nairobi. They 
wanted more recognition and more say in 
their own affairs. A movement had started 
in Kenya to create a federal system with a 
number of semiautonomous states. The 
Swahili, together with other minority eth- 
nic groups, were its strongest supporters. 

Identifying with southern Arabia and 
the Persian Gulf, the Swahili consider 
themselves a distinct people, with a cul- 
ture different from that of the upcountry 
Africans. But many Swahili cannot be dis- 
tinguished physically from their neigh- 
bors, and even though about 20 percent of 
their vocabulary comes from Arabic, their 
grammar is entirely Bantu. Yet many of 
the elite look partly or entirely like Arabs, 
and some families still have links with 
Yemen or Oman. In fact, many Swahili do 
not even want to be called Swahili and pre- 
fer to be called either Shirazi, indicating a 
Gulf origin, or Arab. This has added to the 
tension between the coastal people and 
hinterland Africans. 

Swahili history is tied to the region's 
natural resources and trade. The mainland 
forests produced a wealth of desired prod- 
ucts, such as ivory, rhinoceros horns, leop- 
ard skins, ostrich feathers, timber, aro- 
matic gums and resins, gum copal, wild 
rubber, amber, beeswax, and civet. The 
sea yielded mother-of-pearl, tortoise shell, 
ambergris, and heche-de-mer, the sea slug 
prized by the Chinese for its vitalizing 
powers. Coastal mangroves provided the 
straight, hard poles that were so important 
in the construction of Arabian and Persian 
houses in the deserts of the Middle East. 
Even today mangrove poles are a main ex- 
port from Lamu, but the other products are 
no longer traded. 

Sheikh Omari Ahmad's ancestors be- 

came rich through the export trade they 
controlled from Lamu's port. In exchange, 
they imported fine cloth, ceramics, carved 
chests, carpets, iron tools and weapons, 
beads, grain, cooking oil, and 
spices from China, India, and western 
Asia. The Swahili ports were also conduits 
for spices from Indonesia, and precious 
stones, silk, wildlife products, ceramics, 
lac (a shellac), and indigo from India and 
China on their way to the Mediterranean. 
Between October and March, merchants 
came to the East African coast from the 
north and east with the northern kaskazi 
winds. The journey back to Arabia, Persia, 
and India began with the kusi monsoon be- 
tween April and September. Until the 
twelfth century, Indonesians sailed up the 
coast from the south, using Madagascar as 
a base. The Swahili took Sofala in 
Mozambique from them in the twelfth 
century, gaining control of the lucrative 
gold exports from the mines in what is 
now Zimbabwe. 

Pehpliis of the Eiythrean Sea, a geo- 
graphical work written by an anonymous 
Greek merchant in the first century a.d., 
describes many pre-Islamic trading sta- 
tions along the East African coast; thus we 
know that the maritime trade had ancient 
roots. Over the centuries, the Swahili civi- 
lization developed as the Arabian and 
African peoples interacted, particularly 
after the founding of Islam. Archeological 
evidence suggests that this started in the 
eighth or ninth century. The earliest 
coastal settlements known aie at Manda 
and Shanga, just opposite Lamu, on Pate 
and Manda Islands. The Arab geographers 
al-Masudi, al-Idrisi, and Ibn Battuta. writ- 
ing between the tenth and fourteenth cen- 
turies A.D., described the population of the 
Zinj coast, as it was then called, as a com- 
bination of pagan African and Muslim 
Arab. Overtime the Swahili became com- 
pletely Muslim and developed their own 
unique style of architecture and poetry. 

When Vasco da Gama rounded the 
Cape of Good Hope and sailed up the East 
African coast in 1498, he was most im- 
pressed with the Swahili city-states of 
Kilwa, Mombasa. Malindi, and Lamu. 
There were decorated palaces, great 
mosques, and multistoried houses, and the 
Swahili sultans minted their own coins. 
The Portuguese were later to conquer 
these and other Swahili towns, but they 



were constantly at war in one place or an- 
other trying to keep the populace under 
control. The sultan of Oman, allied with 
the Swahili, finally defeated the Por- 
tuguese at Fort Jesus in Mombasa in 1698, 
sounding the death knell for Portuguese 
power in East Africa. 

Through all of this, Omari's ancestors 
survived by making and changing al- 
liances as the situation demanded. With 
constant jockeying for power to control 
land, people, and resources, the politics of 
the Swahili coast between the twelfth and 
nineteenth centuries resembled those of 
the ancient Greek city-states. 

Lamu remains the most traditional 
Swahili city in appearance and life style. 
The next most traditional, Zanzibar, is 
more cosmopolitan and strongly reflects 
its Omani and Indian heritage. But the 
trade that stimulated the development of 
the Swahili civilization no longer exists. 
Today control of resources is largely cen- 
tered in Nairobi with the national govern- 
ment. Major imports are now vehicles, 
machinery, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, 
and food (Kenya does not produce enough 
food to feed itself). Exports are not the nat- 
ural forest and marine products of the 
Swahili but coffee, tea, and other upcoun- 
try agricultural products. 

The dhow ports are nearly deserted, ex- 
cept for the occasional vessel that follows 
the coast making port calls. Swahili ja- 
hazis and mashuas — small fishing and 
transport boats — are still common in 
Lamu and Zanzibar, but the large ocean- 
going vessels are gone. In the early 1970s 
some 300 dhows came to Lamu each year 
from abroad. Now there are none, al- 
though sailing booms, sambuks, zarooks, 
katias, manjis, and other vessels still ply 
the seas of Ai-abia and India. 

1 thanked Omari for the coffee and took 
my leave. It was late afternoon, and I 
wanted to stroll through town before the 
start of the night's festivities. Once a year 
the people celebrate the Maulidi al Nebi, 
the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad, in 
grand style. The dancing, prayers, and 
processions last for several days. People 
cor?ie by dhow, launch, aiiplane from 
;iil ove;- East Africa, and even ixom Saudi 
Arabia, Om^an, Yemen, and Pakistan. That 
is why I, too, had come. 

Lamu is divided mto two main parts, 
the stone northem section where Omari 

and the other eUte live and the southern 
section, with mud and thatch huts occu- 
pied by the bulk of the population. But 
now the area to the west, on the sand 
dunes, is being expanded with modern 
cinder block. I descended a narrow lane 
bordered by an open gutter until I reached 
the main street. It was filled with veiled 
women and their children out shopping 
after the midday rest. I had to dodge don- 
keys carrying cement bags and sand 
bound for construction sites in the west 
end, and wooden pushcarts laden with 
crates of soft drinks. The smells of coffee, 
incense, spices, and roasting meat came 
from the open shops and cafes lining the 
street. Indian and Arabic music lilted 
through the air. 

I came to the large square in front of the 
old fort — now a museum — and watched 
some old men playing checkers with bot- 
tle caps in the shade of fig and mango 
trees. Then I heard drums beating and 
women singing down by the waterfront, 
only about a hundred feet away. A motor 
launch had arrived, probably from Pate or 
Faza, bringing people for the night's 
Maulidi celebrations. 

My name was called, and I turned and 
saw Katana Jimbi, an old friend who was 
in charge of the fort museum. This was a 
lucky break. I asked if he had some spare 
time to watch the dances with me. I had al- 

ways wanted someone who could explain 
them to accompany me. Omari couldn't 
because he was going to participate in the 

"Sure, I have a bit of time," Katana 
replied amiably. Katana was a Giriama, a 
member of a tribe that lived along the 
coast farther south on the mainland. He 
was dedicated to the preservation of the 
many Swahili ruins that were in danger of 
destruction by encroaching vegetation and 
agriculture. Ancient towns, mosques, and 
tombs all along the Kenyan coast needed 
attention if they weren't to disappear. 
Katana had overseen the restoration of the 
old fort, which had been a rundown prison 
when I first went to Lamu. Now it was a 
lovely museum and restaurant. 

We joined others converging on the 
Riyadha Mosque, in front of which the 
dances were to take place in a sandy, open 
area. The feet and hands of many of the 
women were beautifully decorated with 
intricate designs in red henna, and when 
they coyly let drop the satin veils from 
their faces I could see that they were wear- 
ing their finest gold earrings, nose studs, 
and makeup. Maulidi was like Christmas: 
it was a time to celebrate. 

Large rectangular areas were roped off, 
each containing the representatives of dif- 
ferent villages from the islands of the 
archipelago. On the far side the women 

A dhow race off the village ofShela on Lamu Island 

54 Natur/\l History 1/96 

Lamu Islandf Kenya 

were restricted to one roped-off area from 
which men were excluded. Older men, 
dressed in white and holding up sticks 
with curved handles, stood in straight rows 
like soldiers awaiting inspection. Others 
wearing sunglasses walked along the 
lines, straightening the sticks, smoothing 
out the men's gowns, and whispering en- 

Eventually the drums and tambourines 
started to sound, and the rows of men 
swayed and chanted. Champions took up 
long, curved swords and danced into the 
ring. Two men faced off and began to 
jump and whirl, swinging their swords at 
each other in mock combat to the beat of 
the drums. The crowd roared its approval 
at particularly good moves. 

"This dance is called the Chama," 
shouted Katana over the din. "The older 
man is from Matondoni, and he is consid- 
ered the best Chama dancer on Lamu. The 
younger man is from Pate, and he is chal- 
lenging. The men in lines are doing the 
Goma, a completely different style of 
dance, requiring discipline and control 
rather than the acrobatics of the Chama." 

In another partitioned area, two 
younger men began to go at each other 
with four-foot-long sticks. They swung as 
hard as they could while dancing in a cir- 
cle, their sticks meeting with resounding 
clacks. Each man stayed in the ring only a 
minute or two and then was replaced by 
another from the surrounding crowd. 
Some swung with real ferocity, and I 
hoped that things wouldn't get out of hand. 

"That's the Kirumbizi," said Katana, 
seeing my gaze go over to where the dance 
was being performed. "Men dance it to 
take out their frustrations on one another, 
rather than getting into real tights. It's a 
good system, and keeps down serious 
fighting and injury. They aim to hit only 
the sticks, not each other." 

It was dusk now, and the area in front of 
the Riyadha Mosque was packed with 
people. Dust swirled through the air from 
the dancing and the shuffling throng. 
Many of the men in the Goma lines now 
had Kenyan shilling notes, given to them 
by appreciative onlookers, sticking out 
from their skullcaps. 

"You see those older men in the robes 
sitting in front of the mosque?" asked 

I looked over and saw a group of digni- 




Area of 

f'^~)- Nairobi 


.^, OCEAN 

\ TANZANIA ■.■■ Zanzibiir 
l • Kilwa Kisiwani 



Lamu Island 

Exploring Lamu 

Lamu Museum is a good starting point for a 
tour of the city's "Stone Town" section, where 
houses and hotels face the water's edge. The 
museum is part of the National Museums of 
Kenya; its renovation, which began in the 
1980s, was organized by Richard Leakey, then 
director of the national system. Located on 
Kenyatta Road, the museum features informa- 
tive exhibits on Swahili culture, manages a re- 
stored eighteenth-century Swahili house, and 
sponsors archeological excavations on Pate, a 
nearby island with a Swahili heritage. The mu- 
seum also plays a central role in preserving old 
Lamu — including the repair of the sea wall. 

To get more of a feel for Lamu's past, one 
can walk to the village of Matondoni, where 
boatwrights still gather jungle crook, the natu- 
rally curved limbs of mangroves, to build 
dhow hulls. An easy trip by dhow over to 
Manda Island takes you to the mins of Takwa, 
near Ras Kitau. There is also a daily boat ride 
to Siyu, a small tishing village where a well- 
preserved fort boasts Omiini-style walls. 

The best time to visit Lamu is either be- 
tween December and March or from July to 
October, and the best way to get there is by 
small plane, with regularly scheduled flights 
from Nairobi or the coastal town of Malindi. 
Aiiplanes land on Manda Island, and ferries 
take you from there to Lamu. (You can also ap- 
proach the archipelago by taking a bus along 
the coast, from Mombasa or Malindi; but the 
ride is uncomfortable and there is some risk of 
being confronted by Somali bandits.) Lamu it- 
self is safe, and accommodations can be had in 
the various hotels and guest houses in Lamu 
city or in the nearby beachside village of Shela. 
The archipelago — long a winter holiday desti- 
nation for the well-heeled — also has its share 
of luxury resoits. 

Books and pamphlets on Swaliili culture are 
readily available at Lamu Museum and in local 
bookstores. To read up on the subject in the 
United States, Daniel Stiles recommends East 
Africa and the Orient: Cultural Syntheses in 
Pre-Colonial Times, edited by H. Neville 
Chittick and Robert I. Rotberg (Holmes and 
Meier, 1975). 



Lamu Island, Kenya 

fied elders wearing beautifully embroi- 
dered ceremonial robes and turbans. They 
sat in a row, and people came up in a con- 
tinuous line to kiss theh" hands and receive 
a few words of blessing. 

"They are sherifs, descendants of the 
Prophet Muhammad. They are very 
revered and learned men. They have come 
from the Sudan, Egypt, and Arabia to pay 
their respects to Al-Habib Salih. He 
started the Maulidi celebrations in their 
current form about eighty years ago. He 
came to Lamu from the Comoros and 
started a religious college. He introduced 
music and dancing to Islamic celebrations, 
which at iirst was considered profane. 
Later it was accepted, as you can see." 
Katana smiled. "Tomorrow, a ceremony 
will be held at Al-Habib Salih 's grave." 

After watching another hour of dancing 
and seeing another dance called the Uta, in 
which men dance with leg rattles, I said 
goodbye to Katana and went to my fa- 
vorite restaurant along the waterfront, just 
a simple hut with palm-frond walls and 
roof. It was filled with tourists, mostly 
young backpackers who stayed in the 
many cheap hotels of the old town. I was 
renting a traditional Lamu house owned 
by an English expatriate. Many of the old 
houses had been bought by foreigners and 
restored. The local people, whether out of 
poverty or indifference, were letting the 
eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Swa- 
hili houses decay into ruins. While I was 
eating, a noisy procession went by. 
Women held up cow horns and beat them 
with sticks; men played nasal-sounding 
reed homs. 

The next morning at dawn I set off on 
foot for Shela, a quaint village perched on 
a hill overlooking the southern entrance to 
the straits separating Lamu and Manda Is- 
lands. There was no permanent path for 
the entire three-mile distance, as high tide 
covered the lower parts of the walk twice 
daily. It was now low tide, so I would have 
no trouble. Palm trees, mangroves, and 
flat-topped acacias offered shade along the 
way. Even the early morning sun was 
strong here at sea level, only two degrees 
south of the equator, 

I passed a huge sand dune that marked 
the origma.1 site of the town. One could al- 
ways find bits of blue Chinese ceramics, 
yeUow-and-black pieces from Persia, and 
local reddish pottery shards eroding out of 

Two men peiform the Kirumbizi stick dance. Music and dance were considered 
profane when they were introduced about eighty years ago, but are now 
major features of Maulidi, the celebration of Muhammad' s birthday. 

the sands. Sometimes glass and bones 
could also be seen. Farther along, the 
gleaming white-and-blue village of Shela 
on its promontory gave the appearance of 
a fairy kingdom. Beached dhows lay along 
the curving waterfront, and fishermen sat 
in their shade repairing sails and nets. 

I was heading for the beach, which 
stretched endlessly south from the Peponi 
Hotel. The beach was flat, wide, and 
white, one of the finest in Kenya. A chain 
of gigantic sand dunes rose in back of it, 
with small pockets of stunted doum palms 
offering shade in the occasional hoUow. 
The hollows also offered a hiding place for 
the "dune thieves," boys who could run 
out and snatch things while tourists were 
swimming or walking. 

After a long walk and swim, I decided 
to retum, as the wind had strengthened and 
was blowing bits of sand into my skin like 
tiny darts. As I approached the hotel some 
local fishermen ran up offering me a dhow 
ride back to Lamu. They wore torn T- 
shirts and wide-brimmed straw hats. 
These were Bajunis, Swahilis specializing 
in fishing and farming. Many used to five 
in southem Somalia and the offshore is- 
lands before the political troubles there. 

Since the tide was rising, and the sun 
searing, I decided to accept flie ride, and 

after negotiating the price, I waded out and 
joined three tourists in the twenty-five- 
foot-long craft. This type of dhow, called a 
jahazi, was built in the village of Maton- 
doni on the other side of the island, using 
the same methods and tools used five hun- 
dred years ago. The one crew member 
pulled on a thick rope and hoisted the 
heavy boom and cotton sheet of the lateen 
sail, while the captain steered into a reach 
that took us north toward Lamu town. 
Manda, only 300 yards to the east and cov- 
ered with thom bush, looked deserted. Ac- 
mally, few people lived on the island be- 
cause of a lack of water. 

The wind continued to rise and the 
dhow bucked and swayed dangerously 
through the heavy chop. The crewman 
gave tin cans to all of us and we bailed fu- 
riously as water seeped through the creak- 
ing floorboards. The dhow crashed 
thi^ough the water, and I was amazed that it 
didn't disintegrate from the strain. I think 
we made the trip from Shela in record 
time, and all of us were soaked through 
and laughing when we reached Lamu. □ 

Anthropologist Daniel Stiles is a consul- 
tant for the United Nations Environment 
Program and a research associate for the 
British Institute in East Africa. 

.56 Natural History 1/96 

Celestial Events 


Bright Orion 

by Joe Rao 

On clear, cold January evenings, the 
imposing spectacle of Orion the Hunter, 
high astride the southern meridian, is hard 
to miss. Even city dwellers handicapped 
by light-polluted skies can make out the 
constellation's seven brightest stars. For 
anyone with a budding interest in sky gaz- 
ing, Orion is the best to place to start. 

Orion's two most luminous stars, Betel- 
geuse and Rigel, are stellar opposites. 
Betelgeuse, in the upper left comer of the 
rectangle marking the hunter's body, is a 
cool, red supergiant. Rigel, at the lower 
right, is another supergiant, but in this case 
a hot, blue-white star. The contrast be- 
tween Betelgeuse's ruddy hue and the 
electric blue tint of Rigel is obvious even 
to the untrained eye. 

Betelgeuse, the closer of the two, lies 
some 520 light-years from us and is the 
only star (other than our sun) that has been 
imaged in any detail. Instead of having a 
sharp, distinct edge like the sun's, Betel- 
geuse has a hazy, distended sphere of gas 
that envelops its denser core. It pulsates, 
but so irregularly that no one can predict 
when it will expand or contract. During 
these changes, the huge star's diameter os- 
cillates from 550 to 920 times that of our 

Orion the Hunter, fivm a seventeenth-centwy 
illustration by astronomer Johannes Hevelius 

Rigel is much farther away than Betel- 
geuse, its light taking some 900 years to 
reach us. Although only about one-tenth 
the diameter of the red giant, it is one of 
the most luminous stars in our galaxy, 
emitting roughly 57,000 times more light 
than our sun. Unlike Betelgeuse, which is 
nearing the end of its existence, Rigel is 
just reaching its prime. 

The trio of stars forming Orion's belt 
(from left to right, Alnitak, Alnilam, and 
Mintaka) lie roughly 1,500 light-years 
from us. Like Rigel, they are young, blue- 
white stars, furiously fusing lightweight 
elements into heavier ones. Such massive, 
bright blue stars live for a few tens of mil- 
lions of years before they consume all 
their nuclear fuel and explode as super- 
novas. Our extremely average sun, by con- 
trast, has an expected lifetime of ten bil- 
lion years; then it will develop into a red 

Betelgeuse, Rigel, and the belt stars are 
alluring, but the real attraction of Orion for 
most stargazers is its Great Nebula, a 
fuzzy-looking "star" in the sword hanging 
from the hunter's belt. Located more than 
1,600 light-years away, the nebula is 
roughly thirty light-years in diameter — or 
more than 20,000 times the diameter of 
the entire solar system. Because of its 
great size, it is visible to the naked eye in 
semidark suburban skies. Good binoculars 
reveal more of this object's beauty, includ- 
ing its distinctive greenish hue. To truly 
appreciate Orion, however, you 
need a small telescope. The 
nebula consists of huge 
amounts of the raw materials 
from which stars form — mainly 
hydrogen and helium gas. In- 
side the cloud, some of the 
Milky Way's newest stars are 
being born: the tight quartet 
known as the Trapezium is per- 
haps only 25,000 years old. 

The Planets in January 

Mercury may be visible 
early in the month, low in the 
southwest at sunset, but there- 
after it moves too close to the 
sun to be seen. On the 18th. the 
planet reaches inferior conjunc- 
tion, passing between the earth 
and the sun, and enters the 
morning sky. During the last 

several days of the month, eariy risers may 
catch a glimpse of Mercury rising out of 
the southeast about an hour before sunup. 

Venus stands about 25° above the 
southwestern horizon at sundown on the 
1 St, and by the end of the month it remains 
up for about three hours after sunset. On 
the evening of the 22d, it lies somewhat 
above, and well to the left (east) of, a 
young crescent moon. Already dazzling at 
magnitude ^.0, Venus will grow brighter 
as winter progresses. 

Mars is finally leaving the evening sky, 
having faded to a tenth of the brilliance it 
had at opposition eleven months ago. Set- 
ting low in the southwestern sky, the 
planet will soon disappear into the twilight 

Jupiter begins to emerge from the sun's 
glare about New Year's Day. By mid- 
month it rises about one and a half hours 
before the sun and can be seen — with dif- 
ficulty — low in the southeast, just before 
sunrise. On the morning of the 1 8th, look 
for it well below the waning crescent 
moon. Throughout 1996, Jupiter resides in 
Sagittarius. Watch its motion relative to 
the bright stars that form the teapot-shaped 
pattern of this constellation. 

Saturn appears as a yellowish white, 
first-magnitude object against the faint 
stars of Aquarius. It sets in the 
west-southwest about 10:30 p.m. on the 
1st but closer to 8:30 p.m. by month's end. 
On the evening of the 23d, Saturn will be 
off to the left (east) of the crescent moon. 
Note how Saturn draws noticeably closer 
to brilliant Venus during the final week of 
January. The northern (unilluminated) 
side of the ring system is tilted ever so 
slightly toward the earth. Thus, if you train 
a telescope on Saturn, all you will see of 
the rings is a thin, dark line bisecting the 

The Moon is full on the 5th at 3:50 p.m., 
EST. Last quarter is on the 13th at 3:45 
P.M., EST; new moon occurs on the 20th at 
7:50 A.M., EST; and first quarter is on the 
27th at 6:13 A.M., EST. 

Earth anives at perihelion, its closest 
approach to the sun, at 2:00 a.m., EST, on 
the 4th. when it will be approximately 
9 1 ,396,800 miles from the star. 

Meteorologist Joe Rao is a guest lecturer 
at the American Muscum-Haydcn Plane- 



Naui, Hawaii 

by Robeii H. NoKlenbrecii 

Two volcanic domes joined by an isth- 
mus, Maui is practically two separate is- 
lands; and in fact its western and eastern 
halves are different geological ages. West 
Maui emerged in the Hawaiian Archipel- 
ago about 1.3 million years ago and has 
had more time to erode. Its highest peak, 
Puu Kukui, rises to 5,778 feet. East Maui's 
dome, known as Haleakala, reaches its 
high point at 10.023-foot Red Hill. Be- 
cause Haleakala is so high, its windward 
side intercepts much of the moisture 
brought by the trade winds blowing from 
the east — with more than 350 inches of 
rain each year. The leeward side, however, 
is relatively dry. Ancient volcanic erup- 
tions formed East Maui between 860,000 
and 440,000 years ago; Haleakala erupted 
as recently as about 1790 and is consid- 
ered dormant rather than extinct. 

While the island's resorts are concen- 
trated on West Maui, great natural attrac- 
tions await visitors who venture eastward 
to Haleakala National Park, some of 
whose 28,665 acres were set aside as early 
as 1916. The summit of Haleakala is eas- 
ily reached by a highway southeast of the 
village of Pukalani. For several miles, the 
highway passes through areas where only 
a few native shrubs and grasses persist. 
The land was denuded of its original veg- 
etation by grazing cattle, so most of the 
plants that one sees are imported non- 
natives such as eucalyptus, jacaranda, silk 
oak, lantana, and kikuyu grass. 

Native species are more prominent be- 
yond the park entrance station, at about 
6,800 feet. But higher up on the mountain, 
the vegetation becomes increasingly 
sparse because of the diy terrain, and more 
bare lava is exposed. The most common 
plants are a woody geranium with silvery 

Eas'! Maui is an ancient volcanic dome, 
but the 3,000-foot-deep depression 
apparent in this aerial view is an 
erosional feature, not a caldera. 

leaves; mamane, a short tree with yellow, 
sweet-pea-shaped flowers; ohelo, a type of 
blueberry; pukiawe, a slender shrub with 
clusters of fleshy red, pink, or white fruits; 
a shrubby catchfly, related to carnations, 
whose flowers have five greenish purple 
petals that mm maroon as they age; and 
kupaoa, a member of the aster family. Ku- 
paoa {Dubautia meniiesii) is a short plant 
with stiff woody stems whose leaves smell 
like balsam when crushed. Hundreds of 
small, yellow-orange flower heads de- 
velop in drooping clusters that sprout from 
the base of some of the upper leaves. 

All the species in this arid terrain have 
leaves that are adapted to conserve mois- 
ture. Silvery hairs cover the leaf surface of 
the geranium; mamane's leaves are di- 
vided into many segments, reducing sur- 
face area; a waxy coat protects the blue- 
berry's small, leathery leaves; the stiff, 
needlelike leaves of the catchfly have little 
surface area; and the dense crowding of 
the leaves of pukiawe and kupaoa keeps 
water loss to a minimum. 

Two short spurs off the highway lead to 
breathtaking views across a gap two-and- 
one-half miles wide and three thousand 
feet deep, a feature that looks like a 
caldera but that was actually created by 
erosion. This region and the ridges border- 
ing it are desertlike, consisting of dry 
cliffs, lava flows, and ash and cinder 
slopes. The second overlook, Kalahaku, 
affords a close-up view of one of Hawaii's 
unique species, ahinahina, or silversword; 
a few examples grow behind a fence near 
the parking area. The fence, originally 
built to protect the plants from feral goats, 
now discourages people from digging up 
the plants or trampling their shallow roots. 

Silversword {Argyroxiphium sand- 
wichense) grows only on top of Haleakala 
and on Mauna Kea, on the big island of 
Hawaii. It is a rounded plant two to three 
feet in diameter, consisting of a cluster of 
dozens of stiff, sword-shaped leaves that 
appear silvery because of the silky hairs 
that cover them. After growing for five to 
twenty years or more, the silversword 
blooms. A thick stem rises up to six feet 
above the leaves and puts forth as many as 
600 purple-red flower heads. After flower- 
ing and producing its seeds, the plant usu- 
ally dies. 

Four other species, all unique to the 

Hawaiian Islands, belong to the same 
genus as the silversword. Two — one that 
grows in bogs in West Maui and the other 
in bogs and wet forests on the big island — 
also have silvery leaves. The two others 
lack the silky hairs on the leaves and are 
known as greenswords. One is apparently 
extinct; the other may still be found in the 
wet forests of East Maui. 

58 Natural History 1/96 

This Land 



The highway continues to a visitor cen- 
ter near Red Hill, Haleakala's summit, 
from which hikers can take a trail that 
leads eastward seven miles through the 
arid, calderalike zone. The trail then con- 
tinues southward down the mountain. 
Along the way, and especially where the 
trail continues down the mountain, hikers 
will encounter fragments of a dry forest 

that may once have covered much of the 
south slopes but that has been destroyed 
by grazing animals, including goats. Most 
of the trees in the dry forest rarely grow 
taller than twenty-five feet, and many are 
much shorter. Scattered beneath the small 
trees and shrubs are a few grasses, sedges, 
wildflowers, and even ferns. 
Botanists have recorded more than fifty 

kinds of trees and shrubs in the dry forest, 
most of them native and several of them 
now rare. They include the gnarly Notlw- 
cestntm latifolium. a type of nightshade 
with leaves clustered at the tips of the 
branches; papala kepau (Pisoiiia hniuoni- 
ona), with its huge leaves; halapepe. a lily- 
like plant related to agaves, which has 
slender, woody stems bearing tufts of 



ifhis Land 

grasslike leaves at their ends; and iliahi, or 
Hawaiian sandalwood, which has green- 
ish white, tubular, leather}' flowers and 
black, fleshy fruits. Several kinds of dn'- 
forest trees are more closely related to 
small wildflowers than to any of the trees 
in the continental United States. Mamake. 
for instance, is a type of nettle; papala, a 
member of the pigweed family: aweoweo. 
a woody goosefoot; and akoko, a species 
in the spurge family. 

The dense vegetation cloaking Maui's 
windward side could not offer a greater 
contrast with the dry forest of the western 
slopes. To sample this wet. montane 
woodland requires a separate day trip 
along the scenic highway that follows the 
rocky, often precipitous northem and east- 
em coasts. Twisting its way through dense 

•. ui V j>,uor infomiation write: 


Fisleakaja National Park 

P.O. Box 369 

Makavvao, Maui, Hawaii 96768 


Silversword, known locally as ahinahina, 
sometimes grows for more than PA'enty 
years before blooming, blooms only once, 
and then usuallx dies. 

rain forests of native and nonnative plants, 
the road crosses numerous narrow bridges 
where it may be necessary to yield to on- 
coming traffic. There are few opportuni- 
ties to stop and explore, but one place to 
see montane rain forest plants is between 
Kailua and Keanae, where the road 
crosses Waikamoi Stream. 

Among the plants of special interest are 
a species of Cyanea and a species of Cler- 
montia — ^both tree lobelias whose slender, 
woody stems bear clusters of leaves at 
their tips. The easiest way to tell the two 
apart is by inspecting the petals of their 
four-inch-long, greenish white flowers: 
those of Cyanea are cleft only to their mid- 
dle, while those of Clermontia are divided 
almost to their base. Also along the stream 
are manono, a member of the coffee fam- 
ily that bears dark blue fruits; Coprosma 
ochracea, of the same family, with bright 
orange, juicy fruits; and puahanui, a hand- 
some shrub related to hydrangea. Fifteen- 
foot tree fems are also plentiful. 

Nine miles south of Hana, a village near 
the eastern tip of Maui, is the visitor's cen- 
ter for the Kipahulu district of Haleakala 

National Park. Nearby, the rocky Palikea 
Stream flows down through a series of 
pools and into the ocean. A trail leading up 
the mountain from the visitor's center 
passes beside the pools. Many of the 
plants along the trail are nonnative, but 
there are several nice specimens of the na- 
tive hala, a type of screw pine that resem- 
bles a pahn. 

About a mile upstream, the trail stops 
following Palikea Stream and instead fol- 
lows a tributary, Pipiwai Stream. A half 
rrdle farther on, it ends at Waimoku Falls, 
which has a spectacular 400-foot drop. 
Beyond that, the upper part of Kipahulu 
VaUey has been set aside as a scientific re- 
serve. Only managers and researchers are 
permitted to enter this restricted area, 
home to some of Maui's most endangered 
plants and birds. Among the rare birds is 
the Maui nukopuu, a four-inch-long, yel- 
low and olive green honeycreeper. One of 
the rare plants, the orange-flowering 
Haleakala lobelia, has survived the inva- 
sion of nonnative grasses and feral pigs 
because it can live on steep, nearly inac- 
cessible rocky walls. 

Robert H. Mohlenbrock, professor emeri- 
tus of plant biology at Southern Illinois 
University, Carbondale, explores the bio- 
logical and geological highlights of the 
U. S. national forests and other parklands. 

60 Natural History 1/96 

Joe LeMonnier 

Field §uide 

Recommended travel and 
reading from the authors of 
this months features 

lreland*s Famine 

(Story page 24) 

In the United States, as well as in Ire- 
land, a variety of commemorative events 
will mark the 150th anniversary of the 
Great Irish Famine. Beginning in 1995 
and continuing to the year 2000, organiza- 
tions in cities around the country will be 
erecting memorials, conducting sympo- 
siums and lectures, and holding commem- 
orative events. These events are often 
announced in local newspapers, Irish- 
American publications, and newsletters of 
Irish societies and associations. 

Ireland itself has the ultimate memorial 
to those who died — the Famine Museum, 
opened in May 1994, in Strokestown, 
County Roscommon. Here in the stable 
yards of Strokestown Park, the multi- 
media museum offers a unique experience 
of this tragic period of Irish history. 

From the main street of the town, one 
passes through a Georgian Gothic triple 
arch, then along a wooded drive toward an 
imposing mansion, built in the 1730s by 
the Mahon family. Strokestown Park is a 
strangely fitting site for the Famine Mu- 

Stwkestown Park House 

Famine Museum 

seum. Major Denis Mahon, the landlord of 
the "big house" in the 1 840s, was respon- 
sible for the eviction and forced emigra- 
tion of thousands of destitute, hungry ten- 
ants. He was assassinated by them in 
1847. Conflicting accounts of his murder, 
delivered over a background of whispers, 
can be heard in one room of the museum. 
Other rooms are devoted to the potato, its 
introduction and blight; political history, 
highlighted by panels of eighteenth- and 
nineteenth-century newspaper cartoons 
and photographs; and hunger in the worid 
today. Town documents and Mahon fam- 
ily papers exhibited throughout the mu- 
seum illuminate the social and economic 
conditions that led to the famine. Stroke- 
stown Park House itself, a fine example of 
an early-eighteenth-century gentleman 
farmer's country estate, is open to visitors 
from May through October 

Strokestown, ninety miles from Dublin, 
can easily be reached by car (it is advis- 
able to make rental arrangements from the 
United States). Alternatively, a train runs 
from Dublin to Longford, a town fourteen 
miles from Strokestown by bus. Not far 
from Strokestown are many other places 
of interest, among them Boyle Abbey and 
Roscommon Castle. But historic sites are 
not the only attractions of the area. Just 
east of the town of Boyle is Lough Key 
Forest Park, one of the most picturesque 
forest parks in Ireland. Here, mixed wood- 
land and a lake with a number of islands 
provide habitats for a diversity of wildlife. 
In summer, cuckoos, terns, willow war- 
blers, and blackcaps are among the birds 
that join the resident population. The 
park's many amenities and recreation fa- 
cilities invite a stay of days or weeks. 
There are caravan and camping grounds, 
woodland trails, guided tours, boats for 
hire, and lake cruises on a river bus. 

Four excellent books on the Irish 
famine are Cecil Woodham-Smith's The 
Great Hunger: Ireland 1845-1849 (Pen- 
guin Books, 1991), The Visitation of 
God'? The Potato and the Great Irish 
Famine, by Austin Bourke, edited by 
Jacqueline Hill and Comiac 6 Grada (Lil- 
liput Press. 1993), Christine Kinealy's 
This Great Calamity: The Irish Famine 
1845-52 (Roberts Rinehart, 1995), and 
Robert James Scally's The End of the Hid- 
den Ireland: Rebellion. Famine and Emi- 
gration (Oxford University Press, 1995). 

TangSfoko Reserve: 

(Story page 40) 

Tangkoko-Dua Sudara Nature Reserve, 
on the island of Sulawesi, in Indonesia, 
covers an area of only 2 1 ,900 acres. Its 
roughly 4,420-foot rise from sea level pro- 
vides opportunities to trek from beach, 
through gently sloping lowland forests, to 
cloud forests on the edges of volcano 
calderas. In these diverse habitats one may 
encounter more than 150 of Sulawesi's es- 
timated 328 bird species. More than 30 
percent of these species are endemic to the 

One of the highlights of any visit to 
Tangkoko is the opportunity to observe 
crested black macques, which spend much 
of their time on the forest floor and are ha- 
bituated to human presence. Even the ca- 
sual visitor may witness a range of social 
interactions from fighting to grooming to 
play to copulation. At dawn, tarsiers begin 
their ear-piercing duets and bats swoop 
about. Cuscus, tree-dwelling marsupials 
can also be observed as they move through 
the canopy in slow motion. 

Tangkoko is less than three hours from 
Manado, the provincial capital. From 
there, travelers may take small buses or 
jeeps over a winding mountain road to 
Batuputih, a village situated on the west- 
em boundary of the reserve. Three guest 
houses in Batuputih offer clean accommo- 
dations and a good sampling of the local 
fare. The reserve may also be reached by 
sea from Manado or the port of Bitung. 
Boats and jeeps are available for hire from 

For the most rewarding experience, 
Margaret Kinnaird suggests traveling in 
groups of no more than four and spending 
two to three days in the area. Tlie best time 
to visit is during the dry season, which 
runs from April to October July and Au- 
gust are the hottest and most crowded 

To learn more about this area and its 
wildlife, readers can consult Alan Kemps 
The Hornhills (Oxford University Press. 
1994). The Malay Archipelago, written by 
Alfred Russel Wallace in 1869 (Oxford 
University Press. 1990). and The Ecology 
of Sulawesi, by A. Whitten. M. Mustafa, 
and G. Henderson (Singapore: Periplus 
Editions, 1987). 



Peter Moller and His 
Talking Fish 

On the second floor of the American 
Museum of Natural History, a long, wind- 
ing corridor leads to the Department of 
Ichthyology and a laboratory full of tanks 
stocked with eels, catfish, and elephant- 
nosed fish. All are electric. Peter Moller, a 
trim man in his early fifties, moves swiftly 
about the room, almost as if he were being 
propelled by the electric fish he has been 
studying for twenty-five years. 

He dips a pair of electrodes into a tank 
containing a black ghost eel from South 
America and listens to the static emanat- 
ing from a cheap, white plastic speaker. 
The five-inch fish, which undulates as 
mysteriously as ectoplasm, generates a 
high-pitched, piercing hum. 

Next, Moller drops the electrodes into a 
large tank housing a school of ungainly, 
six-inch-long, black-brown elephant-nosed 
fish with forked tails and trunklike flaps 
drooping from their 
snouts. The cacoph- 
ony that fills the room 
sounds as if someone 
had dropped an elec- 
tric heater into the 
tank. The explosion 
of sound from the am- 
plifier means nothing 
to me but is full of 
meaning for Moller. 
"You can hear several 
fish talking," he says. 
"I can discriminate 
two different voices. 
Now a third chimes 
in." I am reminded of 
ihe fictional Dr. 
Dooliitle, of Pud- 
who — lacking Mol- 
ler's electrodes — 
eavesdropped on fish 

by Henry S. R Cooper Jr 

by dipping one ear into an aquarium. 
These talkative fish did not fit the com- 
mon perception of the deadly electric eel, 
but as Moller explained, there are two 
groups of "aquatic electricians": weakly 
and strongly discharging ones. He hap- 
pened to be particularly well versed in the 
subject, he said, having spent five years 
writing Electric Fishes: Histoiy and Be- 
havior (Chapman and Hall). The strongly 
discharging freshwater eels and catfish are 
high-voltage, and hence high-profile, crea- 
tures who use their 500-odd volts to smn 
their prey. (To achieve a similar effect, tor- 
pedo rays, which are marine animals, use 
a strong current of several amps instead of 
high voltage, which would be easily short- 
circuited in the highly conductive saltwa- 
ter.) Reportedly (but not in reality, accord- 
ing to Moller), electric eels can fell an ox. 
The strong discharaers have been known 

Lifting their shelter Jivm the aquarium, Peter Moller reveals a 
school of electric elephant-nosed fish. 

since antiquity — although the ancients did 
not know about electricity. Five-thousand- 
year-old hieroglyphics in Egyptian tombs 
identify the catfish as the "protector of 
fishes," presumably because fishermen, 
netting a rich haul from the Nile that in- 
cluded the odd catfish or two, would feel a 
mysterious emanation when they touched 
their catch; the jolt would cause them to 
release the entire netful. 

Unlike the strong dischargers, the 
weakly discharging ones are scarcely 
known at all. Charles Darwin knew of a 
weakly discharging skate that seemed to 
short-circuit the theory of evolution. In a 
chapter in The Origin of Species in which 
he dealt with some unresolved questions, 
he asked why it was that the weak dis- 
charges had evolved at all. And where 
were all the intermediate strengths? And 
what was theu^ use? 

Equipment sensi- 
tive enough to mea- 
sure the exceedingly 
weak discharges was 
not invented until the 
tum of the century. In 
the 1950s, British sci- 
entist Hans W. Liss- 
mann proposed that 
these discharges 
might have some sort 
of sensory role. If so, 
he postulated, the fish 
must have organs 
sensitive to electric 
currents. This proved 
to be the case — in- 
deed, the organs had 
been discovered fifty 
years earlier by a 
German scientist who 
had not known their 
significance. Now 

62 Natural History 1/96 



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EXP. 4/15/96 


called electroreceptors. they had e\ol\ ed 
all over the body from mechanorecep- 
tors — organs that allow a fish to sense me- 
chanical distrubances in the water. 

"So here, in the nvendeth cenmr>'. we 
have a new sense, an electric sense." 
Moller told me when 1 saw him in early 
July. ■'Whene\'er a pulse is emitted, the 
fish is surrounded b\' an electric field. 
Each rime the fish pulses, there is a field: 
when it stops, the field is gone. Why does 
the fish do this? Imagine an object near the 
fish. Each time the fish pulses, the object 
will distort the field. It changes the way the 
current flows through the fish's bod)': it 
creates a sort of electric shadow on the an- 
imaFs body surface, w hich is packed with 
electroreceptors. The fish will "see" an 
image and discriminate what it is by its 
size, shape, movement, and electrical 
properties." Almost all electric fish are 
nocturnal, which makes the e\olution of 
an electric sense reasonable. 

The electric sense would also help fish 
orient themsehes — a subject of particular 
interest to Moller. In the mid-1960s, as a 
graduate student at the Free Universit}' of 
West Berlin, he smdied orientarion in spi- 
ders with zoologist Peter Gomer. One day 
a French scientist. Thomas Szabo. of the 
Centre National de la Recherche Scien- 
rifique. visited the spider laboratorj' in 
Berlin and told Moller about his own work 
involving the abilit}' of electric fish to per- 
ceive discharges from other fish — he. in 
fact, had discovered the physiological 
bases of the electroreceptors in African 
weakly discharging fish. He invited 
Moller "s collaboration on a stud\- of how 
electroreceptors were invohed in social 

Now. in New York. Moller and his sm- 
dents work on the behavioral significance 
of electroreceptors and social beha\'ior. 
"We know electric fish have the capacity 
for interaction, for communication." 
Moller said. "And now the storj^ realh' 
gets exciting. How do fish go about signal- 
ing and communicating? And what do 
they say to one another? That's what my 
smdents and I have been studying for the 
last twent}'-five years." 

Much of Moller 's fieldwork has been 
done in Africa on elephant-nosed fish and 
their relatives, and although he has never 
been to South America, his laboratory is 
fail of fish firom both continents. (The 
electrical sense appears to have evolved 
separately in Africa and in South America 
aiter the}' spUt apart. Moller explains that 
the relationships evident in the vertebrate 
family tree shew that ancestral vertebrates 

e\olved an electric sense early on, and that 
onh' some primitive fish lineages sur\'iv- 
ing toda)' — such as lampreys, sharks, and 
sttirgeons — retained this abilit)'. In mod- 
em fish, the teleosts. the electric sense has 
e\ ohed again in se\'eral species indepen- 
denth' on the two continents. ) 

"In the field. we"re interested in such 
things as the fishes' distribution, abun- 
dance, and beha\'ior. both territorial and 
social." he said. "During the da)', we la)' 
out our electrodes and set up a central sta- 
tion with oscilloscopes, speakers, tape 
recorders, and acoustic fish monitors. 
Then, at night, we look at the electric traf- 
fic pouring through our electrodes. We see 
the pulses var)' in shape and size — elec- 
tric-wa\'e form is a good indicator of t)'pes 
of fish. In several species, different pulses 

"We know that 

these fish 

use electrie 

signals te 


but what ore 

they saying?" 

also signal male or female. So the different 
wave forms ma)' sen'e to keep different 
species apart or attract the other sex. 

"What we want to do is to ask certain 
questions. For example, what are the 
meanings of the pulses? Over the elec- 
d-odes. there is a terrific cacophony. How 
do the fish tell one another apart? I think 
they can recognize signals of indi\idual 
fish — just as we can make out a familiar 
voice or hear our own name mentioned 
across the room over the chatter of a cock- 
tail part)'. How do they do it? We cannot 
answer these questions in the field. So dur- 
ing the da)' we catch some of the fish with 
the help of local fishermen, put them in 
plastic bags filled with oxygenated water, 
and bring them back to the laboratory in 
New York. We also buy some fish from 
importers here." 

Listening to the elephant-nosed fish, 
Moller translated the seemingly random 
signals for me. "Soon you realize fish can 
change the rh)'thm of their pulses. The)' 
can discharge faster. .And the tac-tac-tac 

will vary. When you study the interactions 

of two fish, as I'm doing now. after a while 
you see thai what sounds like an incoher- 
ent pattern is no longer chaotic but pre- 
dictable. As one fish increases its rate, the 
other one slows down. Then the quiet fish 
will start speaking in a different rhythm, 
and the first one will stop, as though to 
hear him better. 

"What are the\' talking about? Here in 
m)' lab, we look at fish in different situa- 
tions. We study them at rest and when they 
are interacting with one another. We tn,' to 
record their different patterns and then 
play them back to other fish to see how 
they react — an old ethological trick, used 
successful!)' with birds and many other 
species. And we get quite sophisticated: 
We have the fish decide whether a pattern 
is attracti\'e or repellent." 

He took me to a long, narrow tank, 
where he explained an experiment that he 
is working on with a French colleague, 
Jacques Serrier (of the Centte National de 
la Recherche Scientifique). A hollow tile 
similar to a section of drain pipe, which 
the noctumal fish often use during the day 
for shelter, was at one end; a second, mov- 
able hollow tile was suspended from a 
track above the tank. "The idea is to move 
the fish in the suspended shelter closer to. 
or farther from, the fish in the stationary 
shelter." Moller said. "Close up. one fish 
will stop discharging. Is he making him- 
self invisible? Or is he fistening closely to 
the other fish? Both theories may be cor- 
rect. We've leamed that fish can commu- 
nicate at a distance ten times that from 
which they can locate each other. So you 
have to be vet)' close to locate another fish 
with your own field. If )'0u are communi- 
cating, and I am locating you. your com- 
munication can disturb my electrical field. 
So while Fm doing this. I can block out 
your chatter. There's a neat neural cir- 
cuit — discovered by Curtis Bell, a col- 
league in Portland. Oregon — that does 

Sometimes Moller or Serrier will re- 
place the fish in the movable tile (an ele- 
phant-nosed fish or another African weak 
discharger called a baby whale) with a 
dumm)' fish that pulses out some of the 
signals the scientists want to decipher. "In 
the stationar)' tile. I put a fish I know — one 
whose pattern is familiar. His tac-tac-tacs 
are so fast the)' come in bursts: we call him 
a bursting fish. He loves to burst. Then, I 
drive the dummy fish, emitting its signal, 
toward the bursting fish. When the 
dumm\' enters the live fish's communica- 
tions ranae. it will answer with a burst. I 

64 Natural History 1/96 

move the dummy away. I can teach the 
live fish to change its signal if it wants to 
see more of the dummy. It no longer 
bursts, and the dummy comes closer. If it 
doesn't like the dummy's pattern, the live 
fish can go on bursting and drive the 
dummy away again. Then maybe we'll 
change the dummy's tune; if the live fish 
likes it, it will change its tune to bring the 
dummy closer. In this way, we can begin 
to know what the dummy is saying." 

One intriguing puzzle is that the fish in 
the tanks never talk sex. Fish caught in the 
wild lose their ability to signal their sex in 
captivity. Robert Landsman, a graduate 
student in Moller's lab, was assigned to 
the problem and discovered that they also 
lose sex hormones in their blood. Many 
wild animals become less sexually active 
in captivity, and the same is true of people 
under stress. "This shows that fish are 
people, too," Moller said — a sentiment 
worthy of Dr. Doolittle. Moller and his 
students want to find out which stresses in 
the seemingly placid environs of a fish 
tank can cause sexual dysfunction. 

Moller is now trying to crack the code 
of the strongly discharging fish. Most of 
the sensory and linguistic work has been 
done with the weak dischargers, perhaps 
because there is less danger of electrocut- 
ing lab assistants. The weak dischargers 

In strong 


the whole fish is 

one big power 

plant used to 

stun prey, 

generate their signals from modified mus- 
cle tissue, usually near the tail or (in a va- 
riety called star gazers) from tissue near 
the eyes. "With the strong dischargers, the 
whole fish is one big power plant," Moller 
said. "In the eel and many others, the head 
is positive, the tail is negative." 

Only if people grab the fish by its head 
with one hand and its tail with the other 
are they apt to get a sizable shock — in 
which case the whole body becomes part 
of the electric circuit. Some distance from 
the fish, a person would feel only a slight 
tingle because the electric field diminishes 

in force with the inverse cube of dis- 
tance — which is why Moller is skeptical 
of accounts of electric eels stunning oxen. 

The primary puipose of the strong dis- 
charges, of course, is to stun prey. Electric 
catfish — gray-brown, bewhiskered fish 
that grow to a length of three feet in Africa 
(although Moller's are under one foot) — 
lack the ability to discharge weakly. These 
protectors of fishes give off a few strong 
pulses during the day, but after nightfall, 
their volleys last longer and are at a higher 
frequency — 500 cycles per second. If 
Moller drops a goldfish into the tank, the 
volleys last longer yet, until the prey is 
stunned into edible quiescence. In the 
wild, catfish are eclectic eaters; after a 
night of high-voltage activity, their stom- 
achs reveal a good cross section of the 
river, with one major exception: strongly 
discharging electric catfish stay away 
from their weakly discharging relatives. 
While working on her Ph.D. thesis, one of 
Moller's former students, Catherine 
Rankin, found that they switch off their 
power plant in the presence of other elec- 
tric catfish, possibly because they smell 
them. Two catfish, even if they are rivals 
for the same territory, will not shock each 
other, although they might lock on to each 
others' mouths and wrestle. 

The catfish apparently also use their 
strong discharges in communication — or 
at least they have the capacity to do so. 
This was discovered by John Van Wetter- 
ing, a student in the laboratory who has 
been playing back the strong pulses into 
the tank to see if the catfish can discrimi- 
nate between the length and strength of a 
volley of discharges. They can. "So they 
are able to signal, although we don't know 
that they actually do signal," he said. 

Unlike the catfish, electric eels have the 
ability to emit both strong and weak dis- 
charges; very likely they locate their prey 
with the low discharge, then zap it with the 
strong one. Presumably they do a bit of 
talking as they eat — "pass the hol- 
landaise," that sort of thing. Moller has a 
couple of baby eels in one of his tanks: el- 
egant black fish about six inches long, they 
undulate gracefully across the tank. They 
will grow to be six-footers. Moller showed 
me a photograph of a colleague holding a 
full-grown one by its head and its tail. 
"The eel is dead," Moller said. "If it were 
alive, he would never dare do that." 

Henry S. F. Cooper, Jr.. wrote about scien- 
tists for The New Yorker for twenty-five 
years and is the author of eight hooks on 
space exploration. 



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beina uense 

by Neil de Grasse lyson 

When I was in the fifth grade, a mis- 
chievous classmate asked me the question. 
"Which weighs more, a ton of feathers or 
a ton of lead?" No, I was not fooled, but 
little did I know how useful a critical un- 
derstanding of densit}' \\ ould be to life and 
the universe. The most conimon definition 
of densit}' is the ratio of an object's mass to 
ite volume. But other i>pes of densities 
exist: the number of people per square 
mile on an exotic island such as Manhat- 
tan, for example, or the resistance of 
somebody's brain to common sense. 

The range of measured densities w ithin 
our universe is staggeringly large, span- 
ning more than 40 powers of ten. The 
highest densities are found inside pulsars. 
where neutrons are so tightly packed that 
one thimbleful would weigh about as 
much as a herd of fifty' million elephants. 
Wlien a rabbit disappears into "thin air" at 
a magic show, nobod}' tells you that thin 
air already contains about fift>' septillion 
atoms per cubic meter The best laboratory 
vacuum chambers can pump dowTi to as 
few as ten billion atoms per cubic meter. 
Interplanetan' space is as low as ten nul- 
Uon atoms per cubic meter, w hile interstel- 
lar space is as low as 500.000 atoms per 
cubic meter. The award for nothingness. 
however, must be gi\'en to the space be- 
tween gala.xies, where it is difficult to lind 
more than about one atom for every cubic 

If one were to classUy' cosmic objects 
by densit\' alone, sahent features would 
reveal themselves with remarkable clarit}'. 
For example, dense, compact objects such 
as pulsars and white dwarf stars have a 
high force of gravit}' at their surfaces and 
readily ac-rrcte matter by attracting it toi- 
let-bowi-stYle in die form of a fiinnehng 
disk. .4no-;- e: --siiiple comes from the 
propers - teilar gas. Everywhere 

we look ;: :.}' Way, and in other 
spiral galaxies, ^j; clouds with the great- 
est densitj' are sites where stars are freshly 

minted. Our detailed imderstanding of the 
star formation process remains incom- 
plete, but understandably, nearly all theo- 
ries of star formation include exphcit ref- 
erence to the changing gas densit}' as 
clouds collapse to form stars. 

Often in astroph}sics. especially in the 
planetary sciences, one can infer the gross 
composition of an asteroid or a moon sim- 
ply b\' kno^\ ing its densit}. How? Many 
common ingredients in the solar system 
ha\'e densities that are distinct from one 
another Using the densit}' of Uquid water 
as a measuring unit. ice. ammonia, 
methane, and carbon dioxide (common in- 
gredients in comets ) all have a density of 
less than 1: rocky material, which is com- 
mon among the inner planets and aster- 
oids, has densities beuveen 2 and 5: iron, 
nickel, and several other metals that are 
common in the cores of planets, and also 
in asteroids, have densities above 8. Ob- 
jects with average densities between these 
broad groups are nomially interpreted as 
ha\'ing a mixmre of these common ingre- 
dients. For Earth we can do a httie better: 
the varying speeds of post-earthquake 
sound waves through Earth's interior are 
directly related to the van ing densit}' of 
Earth from its center to the surface. The 
best avaOable seismic data give a core 
density of about 12. dropping to a crustal 
densit}' of about 3. On average, the densit}' 
of the entire Earth is about 5.5 

Densit}'. mass, and \'olume (size) come 
together in a single equation, so if you 
measure or infer any two of the quantities, 
you can compute the third. For the re- 
cently announced disco\en" of a planet or- 
biting around the simlike. naked-eye star 
51 Pegasus, mass could be computed di- 
rectl}' from the data. .'Vn assumption about 
whether the planet is gaseous or rocky al- 
lows a basic estimate of the planet's size. 

Often when people claim that one sub- 
stance is hea\'ier than another ihe implicit 
comparison is one of densirx. not w eight. 
For example, the simple yet technically 

meaningless statement "lead weighs more 
than feathers" would be understood b}' 
near!}' ex'enbod}' to be realh' a question of 
densit}'. But this imphcit imderstanding 
fails in some notable cases. Heav}' cream 
is Ughter (less dense) than skim milk, and 
all seagoing \'essels. including the 70.0(X)- 
ton Queen Elizabeth II. are Ughter (less 
dense ) than water If these statements were i 
false, then cream and ocean liners would ! 
sink to the bottom of the hquids upon 
w hich they float 

Cnhei densit}' tidbits: 

Hot air rises not simply because it is hot 
but because it is less dense than the sur- 
rounding air. It would be just as correct to 
say that the cool, denser air sinks — aU 
convection in the universe is based on this 
simple principle. ' 

Sohd water (commonly known as ice) 
is less dense than liquid water If the re- 
verse were true, then in the winter, large 
lakes and rivers could freeze completely 
from the bottom to the top. killing all fish. 
(On the subject of dead fish, those found 
belly-up in your fish tank are. of course, ■ 
temporarily less dense than their live 
counterparts. ) 

The a\erage densit}' of the Sun is about 
the same as that of human beings, which is 
about the same as that of liquid water 

Unlike any otiier planet in the solar sys- 
tem. Saturn has an a%'erage densit}' less 
than that of water In other words, a scoop 
of Samm would float in your bathtub. 
Knowing this. I ha\'e always wanted for 
my bathtub entertainment a rubber Samm 
instead of a rubber ducky. 

If } ou feed a black hole, its event hori- 
zon (that boundar}' beyond which light 
caimot escape ) grows in direct proportion 
to its mass which means that as a black 
hole's mass increases, the a\erage densit} 
within its event horizon actually de- 
creases. Meanwhile, as far as we can tell 
from our equations, the material content of 
a black hole has collapsed to a single point 
of infinite density at its center 

66 N.\iuR.AL History 1/96 


And behold the greatest mystery of 
them all: an unopened can of Diet Pepsi 
floats in water while an unopened can of 
regular Pepsi sinks. 

If you were to double the number of 
marbles in a box, the density of the mar- 
bles would remain the same because both 
their mass and volume would double. But 
there are objects in the universe whose 
density relative to mass and volume yields 
counterintuitive results. If your box con- 
tained soft, fluffy down, and you doubled 
the number of feathers, then the ones on 
the bottom would become flattened. You 
would have doubled the mass but not the 
volume, which leaves you with a net in- 
crease in density. All squishible things 
under the influence of their own weight 
will behave this way. Earths atmosphere 
is no exception: we find about half of all its 
molecules packed into the lowest three 
miles above Earth's surface. To as- 
tronomers. Earth "s atmosphere has a bad 
influence on the quality of data, which is 
why you often hear about astronomers es- 
caping to mountaintops to conduct re- 

Earth's atmosphere ends where it 
blends indistinguishably with the very low 
density gas in interplanetary space. Nor- 
mally, this blending happens several thou- 
sand miles above Earth's surface. Note 
that the space shuttle and other satellites 
that orbit Earth within only a few hundred 
miles eventually fall out of orbit from the 
residual atmospheric air resistance if they 
don't receive periodic boosts. During peak 
solar activity, however (every eleven 
years). Earth's upper atmosphere receives 
more high-energy solar radiation, forcing 
it to heat and expand. During this period, 
the atmosphere can expand a thousand 
miles farther into space, causing satellite 
orbits to decay faster than usual. 

The famous Hubble constant, a mea- 
sured quantity that today remains uncer- 
tain by about 30 percent, tells us how fast 
the universe is now expanding. But it can 
also be used to derive a "critical" mass 
density of the universe. If the actual den- 
sity of the universe is below the critical 
value, then the universe will continue to 
expand forever. If we are above the critical 
density, then the collective mass of the 
universe will have sufficient gravitational 

pull to evenmally halt the expansion and 
force a recollapse. 

There are attractive theoretical reasons 
(some would call them biases) to assume 
that the density of the universe actually 
equals critical value. But nearly all obser- 
vations and measurements that have been 
conducted on the cosmic mass density 
have consistently derived values less than 
about one-fifth of the critical mass. Using 
the current best estimate of the Hubble 
constant, critical density for the universe is 
about 0.00000000000000000000001 (one 
ten-sextillionth) gram per cubic meter, 
which gets you six hydrogen atoms — give 
or take a few. In galactic terms, the critical 
density would be reached if there were a 
Milky Way-sized galaxy for every three 
million cubic light-years in the entire uni- 
verse. While many regions of the universe 
achieve this density of matter, the data 
imply that most regions fall well below it. 
Yes, it looks like we are in a one-way uni- 

The notion of a recollapsing, cyclical 
universe has aesthetic appeal because it re- 
moves the unsettling idea of a single be- 
ginning of, and a long boring end to, the 
universe. For this and other reasons, astro- 
physicists have been motivated to conduct 
surveys that might discover underlumi- 
nous galaxies. After a recent successful 
search led by Chris Impey, of the Univer- 
sity of Arizona, a press release described 
the results of the study: "The Universe is 
Awash in Dim Galaxies." 

A swift calculation shows, however, 
that since nearly all of these extra systems 
are very small, if you add up all their 
masses, they make only a trifling contribu- 
tion to the total mass density of the uni- 
verse. In other words, being awash in dim 
galaxies has little significance to the fate 
of the universe. Some who dabble in meta- 
physics have hypothesized that outside the 
universe, where there is no space, there is 
not nothing. We might call this hypothe- 
sized, zero-density place, nothing-nothing, 
except that we are certain to find multi- 
tudes of unretrieved rabbits. 

Neil de Grasse Tyson Is an astrophysicist 
with a joint appointment at the American 
Museiim-Hayden Planetarium and 
Princeton Universitx. 

In February's 





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The best CD-ROMs for Januai-y 

by David McDonough 



Now that \\"e'\e tinished exchanging all 
the gifts from people who ob\'iousl\' don't 
know and understand us. it's time to settle 
in for the long winter months. Gone are 
the days when we could be satisfied with a 
crackling fire, some warm cocoa, and a 
cop>- of Carl Sagan's latest. We are in the 
interactive era, and we require a CD-ROM 
player to get us through until the thaw. 
Here is some help: a fist of the best CD- 
ROMs for science mavens. 

If you've e\"er wanted to sit with the 
amazing ph\sicist Stephen Hawking and 
listen to him explain his ideas, now's \'0ur 
chance, with A Brief History of Time: An 
Interactive Adventure (created by Jim 
Mer\'is and Robit Hairman). You may 
have read the book version, but if. like me. 
you understood onl\' even- fifteenth w ord. 
be of good cheen This CD-ROM is not in- 
timidating. The readable text is accompa- 
nied by an agreeable mixture of graphics, 
voice-overs, and animation. You begin by 
entering Haw king's room and roaming 
around the chamber. As you do. icons Ught 
up. each leading to an "adventure" from 
the book. Or you may click on to the hon- 
eycomb chart on the wail and move to a 
screen that leads to indi- 
vidual chapters. 

My favorite ad\'enture 
is through the door to the 
Hawking Craft, where 
Hawking himself at- 
tempts to explain the his- 
tor\' and future of that 
most unfathomable of 
subjects, the black hole. 
Being able to Usten to 
Hawking 's voice is in 
itself a marvel of tech- 
nolog}'. Although a pro- 
gressive motor neuron 
disease makes Hawking 
una'ole to speak, a syn- 
thetic version of the 
p'nysicist's voice ha? 
been generated on com- 
puter for this CD-ROM. 

Crunch Media, in association with Sci- 
entific ,Ainerican and W. H. Freeman 
and Co. Hybrid disk compatible with 
both Macintosh and Windows. S49.95. 

Cinema Volta: Weird Science and 
Childhood Memory, by James Petrillo. 

could be described as the electronic equi\'- 
alent of performance art. ( Cinema \ blta 
was the name of an Italian mo\'ie theater 
owned b}" the wxiter James Jo>ce. ) Petrillo 
categorizes himself as a "practicing fine 
artist." and he makes the best most origi- 
nal uses of this medium r\"e e\'er seen. 

Petrillo looks at technologv' b\" examin- 
ing the li\'es of some of its nineteenth^en- 
tuiy pioneers: Thomas Edison, .Alexander 
Graham Bell. Samuel Morse. Nikola 
Tesla. and .AJessandro \blta. As the piece 
unfolds, he uses the CD-ROM to make us 
aware of how their fives, the Uves of oth- 
ers, and ultimateh' our own fives ha\'e in- 
terconnected with their in\"entions. 

Tlie Vovager Co. 1 Bridge St.. Ir\ing- 

ton, NY. 10533. Hvbrid disk. S39.95. 

1 -800 A46-2001tweb site: 

http:llwww.Yoyagerco. com 

Sudibranchia on CD-ROM.from the series "/ej :-'■/;_ ■:. . Coiistean's World'.' 

ones t/fTcfcr tm Sez: dysi Reess: tntsfact'.^ L-ic- 

Earth Explorer is an interacti\'e tour of 
the world's environment a look at even' 
topic from the sal\"ation of \\ etlands to de- 
bates on the best sources of energ}' for the 
t\vent\'-first centun. The CD-ROM con- 
tains -143 articles, illustrated with photos, 
graphics, \ideo. and quotes. Twent}"-one 
"data sets'" present information about the 
natural world through graphs and maps, 
and U\ent}-one "hot topics" games pre- 
sent both sides of controversial en\"iron- 
mental issues in an interacti\e game for- 
mat .All the information is cross-linked, 
w hich means that \ ou can "surf" from data 
set to hot topic and back again. 

Earth Explorer is pleasant but not star- 
tling. Its %alue Ues in its scope — and al- 
though it is ad\'ertised as being for ages 
ten and above, it seems more appropriate 
for a student on assignment. 

Claris Home Learning. Enteractive, 

Inc. Macintosh and Wmdows. S56. 


Cities Under the Sea: Coral Reefs is the 
first of four titles in the series "Jean- 
Michel Cousteau's \V'orld." which ex- 
plores diverse and endangered habitats on 
land and under the sea. 
Cities Under the Sea 
transports >ou to a vir- 
Uial reef and allows you 
to pilot a submarine to 
\'arious underwater labs 
(with the help of a per- 
sonal diving assistant). 
Each lab illusttates a dif- 
ferent theme: Change 
and Evolution. Living 
Communities, and Cy- 
cles, for example. Well 
researched, this CD- 
ROM uses thousands of 
photos. houLTS of video, 
more than 70.000 words 
of text, outstanding 
graphics, and 3-D ani- 
mation. This disk can be 
enjoNed on several lev- 

HiSTORY iy96 

ids 10*- 



01 star- 




els. The serious student can dive deeply 
into each topic, while the amateur can 
come up for air whenever necessary. 
Enteractive. Inc. Windows onlx. 
: $49.95. 1-800-452-9999 

Based on an Academy Award-nomi- 
nated documentary by Al Reinert (who, 
not coincidentally, co-wrote the screen- 
play for Apollo 13), For All Mankind 
traces the history of American-manned 
space missions from Apollo 1 through 
I Apollo 17. Interviews with astronauts, de- 
signers, and scientists are accompanied by 
annotated transcripts. Biographies of 
everyone who flew on an Apollo mission 
are provided. Footage from actual NASA 
films, extensive maps and diagrams, and 
an appropriately spacey musical score by 
Brian Eno all add up to a great ride with 
America's last cowboys. 

The Vovager Co. Hxhrid disk, $39.95. 


In Last Chance To See. Douglas 
Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide 
to the Galaxy, and zoologist Mark Car- 
wardine join forces to take a look at en- 
dangered species on earth. Last Chance To 
See features Adams's famously skewed 
view of humankind, and his treatment of 
his surroundings makes this disk work. 
The photographs — all 800 of them — are 
fine, but the real discovery here is listening 
to Adams read the entire text aloud. I 
mean, how can you resist a CD-ROM with 
chapter headings like "Here Be Chickens" 
and "Leopardskin Pillbox Hat"? It's a sort 
of Monty-Python-meets-Jane-Goodall 
riff. Even as you click merrily and madly 
away, you are learning about such serious 
issues as how world population growth is 
pressuring the natural worid. 
Serious Productions. Distributed by 
the Voyager Co. Macintosh and Win- 
dows, $49.95.1-800-446-2001 

In Sharks, we are given the chance to 
find out if these predators are really as ter- 
rifying as they seem (the answer is yes. 
they are). You can leam as much as, or 
more than, you ever wanted to know about 
such topics as: "The Shark Body" (which 
includes an intriguing section on the 
shark's sensory and even extrasensory per- 
ception): "A Shark's Life" (see the section 
entitled "Fine Dining"): and my favorite, 

"People and Sharks" (featuring a section 
that finally gets right down to it — "Shark 
Attacks"). You can also listen to experts 
tackle some difficult questions about these 
toothy terrors or play Shark Tag — prob- 
ably the only time you can lose a game 
with sharks and still emerge intact. 

The Discoveiy Channel. Macintosh 

and Windows. $39.95. 


In Stephen Jay Gould on Evolution, part 
of the "First Person Series," you get the in- 
formal version of the eminent evolution- 
ary biolgoist — probably the best purveyor 
of scientific information to the general 
pubUc since Lewis Thomas. 

The disk includes one of Gould's lec- 
tures on Darwin (you can find three impor- 
tant riddles and a complete text and movie 
version), essays on evolution, and some 
valuable insights into Charles Darwin in 
the form of letters, an essay on the Origin 
of Species, and the complete text of The 
Voyage of the Beagle. The footnotes are 
especially well done, and another nice fea- 
ture is the Notebook, which allows you to 
easily add your own notes in the margins, 
copy the text, and print. 

The Voyager Co. I Thirteen-WNET. 

Macintosh onl\. $39.95. 


The Human Body is a multimedia look 
around our insides, anthropocentrically 
described as "the most compUcated and 
perfect mechanism in the universe." Let's 
say you're a pancreas freak. Click on to 
the list of cards and go straight to that 
organ to see photographs (many taken 
from microscopes and endoscopes), illus- 
trations (including twelve drawings by 
Leonardo da Vinci), video, and anima- 
tions. Or plow through the 200 pages of 
hypertext and emerge with a really com- 
plete picture of what's going on in the pan- 
creas. The Human Body is as close as 
you'll ever get to finding out what makes 
you tick. Even your best friends will prob- 
ably never let you get this close in real life, 
so why not take the interactive route? 

E.M.M.E. Interactive. Windows only, 


David McDonough is a fieelance writer 
and reviewer His family says he is user- 

Travel with Scholars 





Explore Australia's natural 
and cultural landscapes 

from the aboriginal homelands to the 
Great Barrier Reef with eminent marine 
biologist Frank Talbot, former director of 
the Smithsonian Instimtion's National 
Museum of Natural History. 

Other 1996 Travel/Study Destinations 

O.xford. Paris, Venice, London, Ireland, 
Oaxaca, South of France, California, 
New Orleans, Southeast Asia 

CALL, WRITE, or FAX for a Brochure 

(510) 642-4111, ext. 10 

Marketing DepL lOB, UC Extension, 

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Fax: (510) 642-0374 

UC Berkeley Extension 


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Travel on the best trip on the 
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^ through Colombia to Brazil and 
back with biologist .Adam Kent of the 
University of Florida. Onl\ 16 cabins 
av ailable, each with a priv ate bath, twin beds, 
and air conditioning. See pink dolphins, 
tropical butterflies, and exotic flora and 
fauna of the rainforest. Only $1995 from 
Miami (Excellent airfare 
add-on rates available 
from other IS cities) + S29 
IS departure tax includes 
international airfare, 
meals, entrance fees, side ^ 
trips, and more. Three 
full meals a day are serv ed buffet 
style. Explore the tropical 
rainforest, native villages, and 
exotic wildlife of the .\ma/onl 
Ciisco & Maclm Picchii i.xleiisiuii 
available. This trip is open to the 
public. Departs Saturday April , 
6, 1996 and returns the followii 






he UeDths uminated 

by Cindy Lee Van Dover 

"But do tbey turn pink when they're 
cooked?'" people ask when I try to de- 
scribe the gray-beige shrimp living at hot 
springs deep in the Adantic OceaiL It is a 
reasonable enough question, since the 
shrimp are perilously near plumes of 
blacL 660^ F water — ^"black smokers" — 
pouring out of sulfide chimneys on the sea 
floor. The shrimp are protected from the 
caldron, though, because heat escaping 
frtMn the earths interior quickly dissipates 
in the surrounding, colder seawater. A few 
inches above the orifice, the temperature 
of the plume is a comfortable 68^ F and 
within about three feet it is a cold 36° F. 

Peter Rona. a geologist with the Na- 
tional Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminis- 
tration laboratory in Miami, discovered 
hot springs in the Adantic in 1985 and col- 
lected shrimp for biologists to examine. 
Two new species were named: Rimicans 
exoculata and R. chacel. Both are mem- 
bers of a family of shrimp that are known 
from Pacific hydrothermal vents. 

The Pacific shrimp are ordinary scav- 
engers. Uving among groups of other ani- 
mals at deep, warm water (up to 68° Fl 
springs. The Atlantic branch of the family 
isfermore remarkable. Scientists have ob- 
served spectacular crowds of these 
shrimp, more than 200 per square foot 
completely obscuring the surface beneath 
Ibem. Tbey don't just sit quied}'. but con- 
standy move about in a way that prompted 
John Edmond. an M.I.T. geochemist who 
has visited the Adantic hot springs in die 
deep-sea submersible Akin, to describe 
tbem in his broad Scottish brogue as "dis- 
gustingly like maggots swarming on a 
hunk of rotten meat" 

At two of the Atlantic hot springs, 
shrimp e.xclusively dominate the fauna. 
Tbey gather iiieir food by mining the sul- 
fide sirfi^c ; of ffie black smokers on which 
tbey five and feeding c-r. filamentous bac- 
teria thai foul ifceir moutfaparts. On the tips 
of tbeir lcg> are strong, filelike spines that 
may be r. ; : ; ;- r^iiping die sulfides. Their 
front paLr ;gs located ver\' near the 
moudx-have ; _- >:iaped claws that look 

well designed for picking up small bits of 
loosened sulfides: an associated brushlike 
appendage may sweep the sidfides out of 
the claws and into the mouth. In post- 
mortem dissections of collected speci- 
mens. I found e\ er\' stomach packed 
solidly with bacteria-laden sulfide miner- 

In smdjing photographs and videotapes 
of the shrimp to leam about their behavior. 
I noticed a pair of bright reflective spots on 
Ibeir backs. TTie spots were not obvious in 
die preser\'ed specimens I had in my lab. 
but when I looked carefiilly I discovered 
that they corresponded to the paired lobes 
of a ver>' large and unusual organ just be- 
neath the thin, transparent carapace. Each 
lobe was coimecled to the shrimp "s brains 
by a network of ner\'es. Although an 
image-forming de\ice was evident. I still 
guessed that these reflective spots corre- 
sponded to eyes of a sort never encoim- 
tered before. My guess was hardly proof, 
as my coUeagues were quick to point out. 
so I set out to find exddence that they were 
indeed some sort of eyes in this otherwise 
eyeless shrimp. 

Ete Szuis. a sensory physiologist at the 
Marine Biological Laboraton' in Woods 
Hole, was willing to perform a biochemi- 
cal assay to determine the presence of 
Ught-sensitive pigment In the extracted 
material. Szuts found a substance that ab- 
sorbed the long-wavelength, blue-green 
part of the spectrum; on bleaching, it ab- 
sorbed e\ en shorter wavelengths. The ab- 
sorption spectra of the shrimp pigment 
closely matched diose of rhodopsin. the 
pigment found in the eyes of both verte- 
brates and in^'^Ttebrates. 

WTiat are the shrimp looking at? With- 
out lenses, they cannot be seeing an 
image. Based on its structure, we think the 
lobed organ is well adapted for detecting 
very low levels of fight What sources of 
dim liglit are there ir. the deep sea? These 

From 77jf Oaopus's Garden copxTigJa E 1996 Giidy L^e 
Van Dwet Bhsraacms ccsn-ridii © l5\- Karen Jaoijsea 
Rajrimed by psmusaoo of Addisoo-Westey Pnblisiimg 
Cranpeny fcic .AB riste reserv cd. 

shrimp five 1 1 .800 feet below the surface, 
far beyond the reach of stmfight. From 
AJvin. the only fight to be glimpsed at 
these depths is the occasional eerie, blue- 
green flash from a biolimiinescent animal, 
and normal shrimp eyes can detect this 
t}pe of fight. 

Could there be fight associated with the 
jets of 660° F water from the sulfide chim- 
neys on which R. e.xoculara fives? We 
know that hot things glow with thermal ra- 
diation, a phenomenon known as black 
body radiation. Are black smokers hot 
enough to emit fight \isible to the shrimp? 
If so. the fight could serve as a beacon 
drawing shrimp to feeding areas or deter- 
ring them from too close an encounter 
with water hot enough to cook tiiem in- 

Testing this hvpofliesis meant returning 
to Mid-.\tlantic Ridge \ents in the sub- 
mersible AMn. carefuUy measuring fight 
levels and wavelengths at the chimneys, 
smdjing the shrimp's behavior in response 
to experimental fight stimufi. and conduct- 
ing shipboard physiological experimenta- 
tion. This work has yet to be done. 

Logic led us to befie\e that our hypo- 
thetical fight at \fid-.A^tlanric Ridge \ ents 
could be a universal phenomenon at high- 
temperature vents in the deep sea. Uni\ er- 
sity of Washington geologist and \olca- 
nologist John Delaney invited me to be the 
biologist on an Ahm dive series to hy- 
drothermal \ ent sites on the Endeavour 
Segment of the Juan de Fuca Ridge, off 
Vancouver. I accepted inunediatety, as De- 
laney was to use an electronic digital cam- 
era on the cruise to create a digital mosaic 
of sea-floor images in the \icinit\ of the 
vents. High-tech digital cameras are used 
extensively in astronomy to capture dim 
fight from distant galaxies. There is a sat- 
isfS'ing, if somewhat pre-Copemican. 
sxmmeny in turning to the same technol- 
ogy.^ in oceanography to capture fight emis- 
sions fueled by the core of our own planet 

Once on the Atlantis II (mother ship for 
die Ahiu). I proposed aiming the Alvin's 
camera at a black smoker orifice, extin- 

72 NAlTJitA. 


' surface, 










guishing the submersible's lights, and let- 
ting the camera record the ambient light. It 
wasn't until the very last dive (of a nine- 
teen-dive series) that Alvin was lifted off 
the deck carrying the camera. I remained 
on the Atlantis. Inside the Alvin were De- 
laney; Dudley Foster, chief pilot and expe- 
dition leader; and Milt Smith, an expert in 
(remote sensing at the University of Wash- 

I haunted the ship's lab where commu- 
nications with the submersible took place 
every half hour. In response to our brief 
queries about their status, the crew replied 
with a "busy" signal in Morse code. At the 
end of the dive, with the submersible well 
into its hour-long ascent, I gave up on 
learning anything about the success of the 
experiment and left the room. On retum- 
ing, I was handed a note by Pat Hickey, the 
dive's surface controller. It was a message 
finally relayed from the submersible, a 
message with only two words: "Vents 

After the Alvin was stowed on deck, we 
gathered around the computer workstation 
as Smith called up images of the glow. I 
expected to see some ambiguous hint of a 

fuzz. But what came up on the screen, in- 
stead, was a dramatic, unequivocal glow 
with a sharply defined edge at the interface 
between the sulfide chimney and the jet of 
hot water. Less than an inch above this in- 
terface, the glow became diffuse, disap- 
pearing altogether within about four 
inches. The same phenomenon was docu- 
mented at two different chimneys within 
the same vent field. 

The discovery of this glow at high-tem- 
perature vents opens up a whole new area 
of research. At the moment, the glow is an 
intriguing and aesthetically pleasing phe- 
nomenon. Its importance will be judged 
by what we will leam in the future about 
the mechanisms of its production and its 
biological consequences not only for At- 
lantic shrimp but also for other organisms 
of the hydrothermal vents, 

Cindy Lee Van Dover is an associate pro- 
fessor of oceanography at the University 
of Alaska at Fairbanks and a visiting in- 
vestigator at the Woods Hole Oceano- 
graphic Institution. She is aformer pilot of 
Alvin, a deep-sea submersible used to ex- 
plore the ocean. 

Two views of the Atlantic deep-sea shrimp. Rimicaris exoculata. Lobes of an "eye" 
organ are visible beneath the transparent carapace in the view at left. 

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o iwog 
Porta a e 

Sticking to their father like leeches, two tadpoles get a 
ride to a bigger and better pool. A species of poison frog 
found in the Amazon rain forest, Dendwbates reticiilatits 
faces little danger from predators as it transports its 
offspring through the leafy undergrowth; its bright colors 
warn potential attackers of the noxious alkaloids secreted 
by its skin glands. 

The males are territorial and keep tabs on the eggs they 
fertilize. Because the two to four eggs in a clutch are 
deposited on land, the attentive parent moistens them if 
necessary with water stored in a body cavity. When the 
tadpoles emerge, they wriggle aboard the adult for a lift to 
the nearest protected pool of water, usually located in the 
cupped leaves of a bromeliad. The legless tadpoles adhere 
because of the surface tension between the mucus on the 
adult's back and the tadpoles' concave bellies. The 
tadpoles seem large only because the adult is so tiny, its 
body measuring about half an inch in length. 

This remarkable behavior probably evolved in stages to 
insure the survival of the young. At first, eggs may have 
been deposited on land to safeguard them from aquatic 
predators. This led to the need to monitor the developing 
eggs and move the hatching tadpoles to water. Females of 
another species, D. piimilio. have evolved an additional 
trick; they return regularly to the site where they left their 
young and deposit unfertilized eggs, which the tadpoles 
promptly consume. — Robert Anderson 

Photograph by 

Miohoel and Potrioio Fogden 




Tlie universe isiit really missing atiything 

by Roger L Welsch 

I have been stewing for schdc time over 
scientists' bewildermeni about an a{q>arent 
deficiency in the amount of matter in tfae 
univeise. As I imdeistand it, according to 
tbeir inventoiy, scientists think tfaeie is 
suf^wsed to be this much stuff, but ihey 
can find only that much stuff. Evidently 
they think there will be hell to pay at the 
next cosmic audit if they can"t come up 
with the receipt 

I just don't understand why they are all 
bent out of shape over this. It wouldn't sur- 
prise me to find out that 90 percent of the 
material of the universe is missing. Fm 
sure 99.9 percent of my things are missing. 
Things are constantly dis^^)eaiing fiom 
my life. In my house, ballpoint pais are as 
scarce as mayflies when the trout are bit- 
ing. I cany a box of two dozen ba^oint 
pens into the house every two w^ks. I 
don't e\'en check anjinore to see if there 
are pens in the desk OHnpartment we re- 
ser\e for pens. There never are. Log 
chains disajqjear here too, and staplers and 
scissors. Friends who owe me money dis- 
appear. I once lost a pecan pie in our 
kitchen and never found it. We moved 
years later and I was sure I would find it 
then, but I didn't- It just disappeared. 

So many people have d^t with the 

phecomeson :f siiising single socks that 

\tit issue is a ciiche. (My favorite explana- 

■^ " - " Ere^a B<w?:boc-'!c"s„ that fet socks 

'--'s '*?'.h Jeses."; I have saved aM 

:ks that bave saown up 

; ji ten years. I "navec't the 

it them, but diev fill a two- 

bushel potato sack and wei^ fifity-sevai 

Joim Paiker, a professor emeritus of ge- 
ology, wrote me from Michigan not Icmg 
ago to tell me about (me of his experi- 

My coffee cup, whidi is usually neaiby on 
the kitcheu table, was there (xte minute and 
disa{^>eared the ne.\t. I puzzled over this at 
lioigtfa, unlil it came to me that here was in- 
disputable evidence of proton decay. The 
only thing that seemed surprising was that 
Ibe spcxitaneous decay of a zillion protms, 
simultaneously, hadn't been accranpanied 
by scintillating flashes, crackling sounds, an 
eerie glow, a whimper, or a bang. But there 
had been nothing. Then, just as I was ex- 
plaining my theory of protcn decay to my 
wife, she cqioied the microwave for scnne 
reason and discovered my haU-hiU mug in- 

This has happened to all of us. No 
flashes, crackles, glows, whimpers, or 
bangs. Things just disa{q>ear, sometimes 
to reaj^)ear elsewhere. This latter olser\'a- 
hoa is most significant For example, my 
single sock collection does not consist 
«ily of left-overs from pairs I (Mice owned. 
No, there are socks I have never seen be- 
fore and wouldn't wear, not even in my 
wildest nHHnaifs of disregard for fashion, 
conventiML and oMimwn decency. They 
sjwing up indq^odoitly in the laundry or 
my sock drawer. Socks disq^iear in one 
household only to a|q>ear at another. Simi- 
lariy. sometMie finds my log chains rusting 
in his basemait and cannot for the life of 
him figure out where they came frran. 

So there you have it — the material of 
this universe is not missing. It is in a state 
of constant transition from being to not 
being andb^k. It's like the transporters on 
the starship Enterprise: things are broken 
down into molecules here and reappear 

Moreover, forms shift as easily as loca- 
tions. Ballpoint pens disappear in Dan- 
nebrog, Nebraska, only to be reconstituted 
as dust kitties in Pomona, California. 
Mendicant friends are not dead but 
reemerge as congressmen in Washington. 
Kate Moss's metabolism fritzes off 1 1 .98 
pounds worth of calories, which flit about 
the imiverse in a noncorporeal form for a 
while — ^thereby becoming some of the 
missing matter scientists have been con- 
cemed about My body, ever read>' to help 
a fair damsel, picks them right up and 
packs them between my muscular frame 
and my skirt 

You get a bowl of tapioca when you 
can't get to a toilet to dispose of it appro- 
priately, so 3'ou eal a pound or two of it 
You look into the custard cup and are sur- 
prised to find that there is just as much 
tapioca there as before. You eat another six 
pwunds. but there it all still is. Lost materi- 
als of the universe are re-fonning them- 
selves again, right under your nose! 

And where did all that stuff come from 
that blew out of Mount Pinatubo? 

Yep . . . my pecan pie. 

Folklorist Roger L. Welsch lives on a tree 
farm in Dannebrog, Nebraska. 

-_ riiT^RV ;,96 

Explore the World... 

With the 

era! of 
10 not 


Patagonia to Peru 

March 19- April 4, 1996 
From $6,670 

Singapore to Bombay 

March 30 - April 18. 1996 
From $6,990 from New York 

i 'Wonders of the Amazon 
April 11-22, 1996 
From $3,625 

Ancient Coast of Turkey 

May 27 - June 9. 1996 
From $4,895 

Rome to Athens 

June 6-18, 1996 

From $4,980 from New York 

Alaska's Coastal 

June 23-30. 1996 
From $3,002 

'Round Britain 

June 26 - July 10, 1996 
From $6,480 

Bridging the Bering Strait 

June 29 - July 1 1 . 1996 
From $4,745 

The American Museum of Natural History has 
sponsored thousands of scientific expeditions in 
an effort to untangle the world's greatest myster- 
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Wildlife of the Galapagos: 
A Family Adventure 

July 2-12. 1996 

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July 14-27. 1996 
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The Northwest Passage 

July 20 - August 5. 1996 
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Romantic Waterways: 
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September 14-21,1996 
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Passage to Suez 

October 2-14. 1996 

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Ancient Egypt and the Nile 

October 14-30. 1996 

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Copper Canyon 

March 2-10. )996 

National Parks of the West 

May 19-28. 1996 
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Royal Scotsman: 
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May 20 - June 1 , 1996 

The Amber Route of Europe 

May 24 -June 3. 1996 

Beijing to Moscow 

June 13-28. 1996 
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Southern Africa: 
An Historic Safari 

September 1996 
$12J40 from New York 

Istanbul to Damascus 

October 8-24. 1996 
From $6,590 


Natural Wonders and 
Wildlife of Venezuela 

March 21 -April 3. 1996 
$4,551 from Miami 

Islands of Indonesia 

April 14 -May 1.1996 
$5,730 from Los Angeles 

New York City Weekend 

April 25-29. 1996 

Origins of Man: 

South Africa & Botswana 

May 3-19. 1996 

Cornwall Walk 

May 6-15. 1996 
$3,650 from New York 

Botswana: Desert & Delta 

August 31 -Sept. 16.1996 

Himalayan Kingdoms: 
Nepal and Bhutan 

September 10-27, 1996 


Sept. 28 - October 12, 1996 
$4,750 fi-om New York 

Peru Expedition 

October 1996 
Appro.x. $3,990 


Archeology and Rock Art 
of the San Juan River 

May 10-15. 1996 

Digging for Dinosaur 
Fossils in the Rockies 

,//(/.v 6-13. 1996 

For a complete listing of 
destinations, contact the 
Discovery Tours office. 

American Museum of Natural History/Discovery Tours Central Park West at 79th St. New York, NY 10024-5192 

(212) 769-5700 in New York or Toll-free (800) 462-8687 

Natural history 
Received on: 12-15-95 
Ref 5. 05(74. 7) Ml 

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SiiWiO I 

February 1996 Volume 105 Number 2 

36 Kingdom of Gold 

In Ghana, present celebrations mix with sobermg 
remembrances of the past. Enid Schildkwut 
Photogmplis by Frank Founiier 

The Biomechanics of Trees 

48 How to Build a Tree 

Wood evolves, and plants reach new heights. 

Karl J. Nikks 
53 Naturally Inspired 

Engineers learn the design secrets of trees. 

Delta Willis 
56 When the Bough Bends 

A winter walk imparts a lesson in evolution. 

Bernd Heinrich 

58 Uncommon Commuters 

Elephant seals spend most of the year at 
sea, coming ashore only to mate, give birth, 
nurse, and molt. Brent S, Stewart 

64 Murder by Misdetoe 

Red flowers on a desert cactus may mark it for an 
untimely demise. Carlos Martinez del Rio 
Photographs by Gary Braasch 

Cover: Wearing golden 

jewelry and a draped cloth 

composed of narrow woven 

strips, an Asante dignitary 

attends the Icing's Silver 

Jubilee celebrations in 

Kumasi, the Asante kingdom's 

traditional capital in Ghana. 

Story on page 36. 

Photograph by FranSi Foimher; 

Contact Press Images. 

4 Up Front: An Evolutionary Leap 


6 Contributors 

10 Letters 

Natural Selections 

12 Review: Dragons Are Us Richard Ellis 
14 Bookshelf: Ten Picks for February 
16 Excerpt: The Variety of Supernatural 

Experience Carl Sagan 
18 CD-ROM: The Inside Story 

Howard Topoff 

Logging-on to the Next Frontier 

Robert Anderson 

23 This View of Life: On a Toothed Bird's 
Place in Nature Stephen Jay Gould 

30 Science Lite: Send in the Clown 
Roger Welscli 

32 Universe: Interpretations of the Cosmos 
Neil de Grasse Tyson 

Field Guide 

72 Discovery: Nevada's Night FUers 

Peter Bradley 

This Land: Volcanoes 

National Park, Hawaii 

Robert H. Mohlenbrock 

Celestial Events: Venus 's Brilliant 

Performance Joe Rao 

Travel and Reading 




94 The Natural Moment: Sapsicle 
Photograph by Yuzo Nakagawa 

At the American Museum 

96 The Ancient Allure of Amber 

David Grimaldi 
98 Amber Dexterous Alec Madoff 
100 February Events 


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An Evolutionary Leap 

The theory ot punctuated equihbrium, proposed in 1972 
by American Museum of Natural History paleontologist 
NOes Eldredge and our columnist Stephen Jay Gould, 
states that evolution does not occur gradually as Danvin 
imagined, but rather that long periods of relative stability' 
are punctuated by episodes of change. So it has been with ^1 
this magazine ever since its inception in 1900 as 77;c 
American Museum Journal. Now read by 525,000 sub- 
scribers each month, Natural Histor]''s intent remains the 
same; to take readers on great journeys of scientific and cultural discovery 

The changed appearance we introduce with this issue — designed by consultant 
Roland Schenk — \vill make the experience of discovery at once more lively and 
more intimate. In a world in which \drtual realit^' is in the ascendant. Natural His- 
tory will continue to pro\'ide a connection with the real world — ^its nature and its 
people — through the work of scientists, journalists, and photographers. 

Longtime readers of the magazine will notice that one thing is unchanged: 
the names on the masthead remain pretty much the same as they have been for 
the past ten years. The knowledge and dedication of this board of editors and 
staff make it possible to take this evolutionary leap without losing touch with 
our long and successful past. 

Publisher Linda Cherry and I hope you'll look at this issue of Natural Historj' 
as an invitation: In four years we will celebrate our 100th year of pubUcation. 
Join us now and get an early jump on the millennium. — Bruce Stutz 






1991 i 



The monthly magazine of the 
AMERiCAN Museum of Natural History 

Bruce Stutz 

Editor in Chief 

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Managing Editor 

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Florence G. Edelstein 

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Board of Editors 

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Richard Milner 

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Ka\' Zakariasen (Pictures) 

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Research Editor M 

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Copy Editor f 

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Asst. Designer fl 

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Editorial Asst. 1 

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Picture Coordinator 


Carol Barnene 

Text Processor 

Roland Schenk 

Editorial ConsultaiU 

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Design Assistant 

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General Manager 

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Asst. to the Publisher 

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Direct Mail Manager 

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Contributors INatural History 2/96 

Bernd Heinrich ("When the Bough Bends") has 
written for Natural History on insect thermoregula- 
tion, squirrels, songbirds in winter, ravens, tundra 
nests, and, in this issue, trees and ice. A professor of 
biology at the University of Vermont, Heinrich 
enjoys spending his winters in the Maine woods. 

After five summers in 
the Chilean desert, 
Carlos Martinez del 

Rio ("Murder by 
Mistletoe") says he has 
uncovered "just the tip 
of the iceberg" in the 
complex associations of 
the region's unusual 
mistletoe. An assistant 
professor of zoology 
and physiology at the 
University of Wyoming 
in Laramie, Martinez 
also studies how birds 
digest food, his favorite 
avian subjects being 
hummingbirds and 
cedar waxwings. A na- 
tive of Mexico City, 
Martinez now lives 
with his family in 
Centennial, Wyoining, 
pop Illation 100. 

A curator of anthropol- 
ogy at the American 
Museum, Enid 

("Kingdom of Gold") 
has been doing field- 
work in Afirica since the 
1960s. In 1984 she su- 
pervised the American 
Museum's installation of 
the British Museum's 
exhibition Asniite: 
Kingdom of Gold and 
was curator of, and 
coauthor of the catalog 
for, the American 
Museum's 1990 exhibi- 
tion African Reflections: 
Art from Northeastern 
Zaire. She is the author 
of People of the Zongo: 
Tlie Transformation of 
Ethnic Identities in 

The work of photographer Gary Braasch 

("Murder by Misdetoe") focuses on people and the 
environment and. as in his Chilean scenes in this 
issue, the interactions of plants and animals. In his 
photographs, Braasch, who hves on the Oregon 
coast, has documented the life and the loss of 
forests in the Pacific Northwest. His work has ap- 
peared in Lfe, Audubon, the New York Times 
Magazine, and Discover. 

Frank Fournier 

("Kingdom of Gold") 
began his career as a 
photographer in 1976, 
following years of med- 
ical training. He has re- 
ceived awards fi^om the 
World Press Photo 
Foundation for his cov- 
erage of genocide in 
Rwanda, AIDS, the 
Nevada Ruiz volcano 
disaster in Colombia, 
and the stock market 
crash of October 1987. 
In 1991, an exhibition 
of his documentation of 
the lives of Romanian 
babies afflicted by the 
AIDS virus premiered 
at the Musee d'Elysee 
in Switzerland. A regu- 
lar contributor to Life, 
Fournier has also pub- 
lished in Europe. 

A professional photog- 
rapher for fifi:een years, 
Yuzo Nakagawa 

("Sapsicle") finds abun- 
dant subjects in the nat- 
ural areas at the foot of 
Mount Fuji in Japan. 
There he studies and 
photographs the smaE 
creatures of the region, 
including wild mice, 
bats, and birds. He cap- 
tured the long-tailed tit 
in this month's "Natural 
Moment" with a Nikon 
801 camera and 
Nikkor lens. 







In 1978, Brent S. Stewart ("Uncommon 
Commuters") began an investigation into the po- 
tential effects of sonic booms fi^om space shuttles 
and other military space vehicles on the seals of 
Cahfornia's Channel Islands. He has been stud^dng 
the behavior and population ecology ot seals ever 
since, conducting fieldwork in Antarctica, Russia, 
Greenland, Iceland, and the Bering Sea. His presen 
research also includes a study of whale sharks in thi 
waters off" Mexico. A senior research biologist at 
Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, Stewart is 
also attending the Boalt Hall School of Law at the 
University of California, Berkeley. 


: region, iiOelta Willis ("Naturally Inspired") became intrigued by the shapes of trees 
■nitt. while photographing baobabs and acacias in East Afirica. She was introduced 
He cap- to the work of physicist Claus Mattheck at a conference on natural structures 
A in Stuttgart in 1992 and explored the relationship between natural forms and 
human design in Tlie Sand Dollar and the Slide Rule: Drawing Blueprints from 
Nature (Addison-Wesley, 1995). She has also written extensively about human 
evolution in Afirica and is the author of Tlie Hominid Gang: Behind the Scenes 
in Search of Human Origins (New York: Viking Penguin, 1989). 

Surveying bats in Great 
Basin National Park, 
Peter V. Bradley 

("Nevada's Night 
Fliers") counted ten 
different species and 
fell in love with this 
often despised group ot 
mammals. Bradley, who 
lives near Nevada's 
Ruby Mountains, 
earned his M.S. in 
wildlife ecology from 
the University of 
Nevada at Reno in 
1986. He is currently a 
wildlife biologist with 
the Nevada Division 
of Wildlife. 

As an undergraduate math major, Karl J. Niklas 

("How to Build a Tree") got hooked on botany at 
the City University of New York in the 1960s. A 
former curator at the New York Botanical Garden, 
he is now a professor ot botany at Cornell 
University and editor-in-chief ot the American 
Journal of Botany. He wrote Plant Biomechanics and 
Plant Allometry (both published by the University 
of Chicago Press) and has just completed a new 
book on plant evolution. 



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Four levels of 

1 enjoy reading Natural History 
each month, yet never expected 
to find a package hke "Natural- 
born Mothers" (December 
1995) in your magazine. I am 
dehghted with it. 

I am a mother, a science 
writer, a feminist, and a scien- 
tist. Sarah BlafFer Hrdy's article, 
and the sidebars that accompa- 
nied it, satisfied me on each of 
these various levels. 
Yvonne Carts-Poii>ell 
Belmont, Massachusetts 

Back to the future? 

According to the caption be- 
neath the photo of a model of 
an australopithecine couple 
("Portraits of Prehistory," De- 
cember 1995), Australopithecus 
afarensis lived 1 .7 milhon years 
ago, while Homo ergaster hved 

2 miUion years later, or 300,000 
years in the fliture. Golly, I was 
always taught that we can't pre- 
dict fiiture evolution! 

Michael Seaman 

New Haven, Connecticut 

You were properly taught. Other 
readers also spotted the mistake, for 
which we apologize. John Holmes's 
australopithecine sculptures are based 
on fossils up to 3.5 million years 
old — about the time of the famous 
LaetoU footprints — while Homo 
ergaster dates to about 1. 7 million 
years ago, or close to 
2 million years later — Eds. 

Brand X ant farms 

Howard Topoff s review of 
Uncle Milton's Ant Farm 
("Natural Selections," Decem- 
\-or 1995) indicates that the 

:■' :!ry was introduced m 1954. 
Unci? iv^iitoii may have info- 

ucecl i: tiisn. but he inerelv 

.'.nvcnted ivj: wheel. 

Whea I wxs a kid m .ie 
'■ yJOs, my parents bougiit j 
generic anc farm, wliich was 

John Holmes's models of an Australopithecus afarensis couple, in the 
American Museum's Hall of Human Biology and Evohition 

supplied with a full deck, queen 
included. The colony labored 
mightily and burgeoned, with 
the eventual demise occurring 
several months later, probably 
from overcrowding. 

Then, out to the yard with a 
trowel. What else is new? 
William D. Winter, Jr 
Dedharn, Massachusetts 

Pilot -whale hunt 

Bill Amos concludes "Blood 
Relations" (November 1995) 
with ambivalence: "My pro- 
found behef that kilhng whales 
is wrong under any circum- 
stances was shaken." He does 
not discuss in his article whether 
more or fewer pilot whales are 
being hunted annually, nor is 
there mention of whether over- 
all numbers of whales are in- 
creasing, staying the same, or 
Charles Goodman 
Olympic Valley, California 

Tlie International Wlialing Com- 
mission (IWC) estimates the long- 
fnned pilot whale population 
oj the northeastern North Atlantic 
at 778,000. Catch size of the 
Faeroese fishery can vary greatly 

from year to year, depending on 
hoiv close to shore the pods come 
and how successful the Faeroese are 
at driving the whales onto the beach 
for harvesting. The 1991 report by 
the Scientific Committee of the 
IWC indicates that such shore- 
based hunts do not have 
any serious impact on pilot whale 
mnnbers. — Eds. 


Henry Cooper's article "Peter 
Moller and His Talking Fish" 
(January 1996) states that 
Robert Landsman, a former 
graduate student of mine, was 
assigned to investigate why 
African elephant-nosed fish lose 
their ability to signal their sex in 
captivity. In fact. Landsman was 
the one who discovered the 
Peter Moller 
American Museum 
New York, New York 

Credit "where due 

In his report ot a major discov- 
ery ("The EarUest Asians Yet," 
December 1995), Russell Cio- 
chon mentioned the contribu- 
tions of Walter Granger but 

failed to credit N.C. Nelson, a 
former curator at the American 
Museum of Natural History, for 
his pioneering archeological re- 
search along the Yangtze River 
from November 1925 through 
March of 1926. 

Granger did play an impor- 
tant role in AMNH expeditions 
along the Yangtze. His research, 
however, was based on the pur- 
chase of "dragon bones" from 
local peasants, who had for years! 
been digging them out of Ume- 
stone pits and selling them to 
local pharmacists. Nelson, on 
the other hand, researched the ' 
caves along the Yangtze in 
hopes of finding "a cavern con- 
taining perhaps the whole story 
of the Old Man of Asia" and his 
disappointment at finding only a 
few NeoHthic sites was evident 
in his summary of his explo- 
rations, published in "Archeo- 
logical Renaissance in the 
Yangtze River Gorges" in Roy 
Chapman Andrews's Tlie New 
Conquest of Asia (1932). 

[W]e examined 367 caves and 
shelters, of which 139, or 38 
percent, were, or had lately been, 
inhabited. . . . Tlie residts, sofa, 
as evidence of Palaeolithic man 
was concerned, proved, contrary 
to Hngering ex-pectation, ab- 
solutely negative; and of Ne- 
olithic man, we obtained in the . 
caves only faint traces. 

In all probabihty, Nelson car-| 
ried out prehminary excavation;' 
at caves only fifteen or twenty 
miles from Longgupo. 

I am sure that Nelson, if he 
were alive today, would feel 
both vindicated and disap- 
pointed about the discovery at 
Longgupo — vindicated that his 
original hunch had been correc 
and disappointed that he had 
not found the cave. , 

Homer Williams i 

New York, New York \ 

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Natural Selections Naturae Histoo 

ons Are Us 

Dragons; A Natural Histore by Karl Shuker. 
Simon and Sdtiister, $22.50; 120 pp., ilhis. 

By Richard Ellis 

Review ^'^ know; alas, that there are 

no such things as fire-breath- 

ii:g. viixigcj reptiles, and no need to invoke 

intrepid Saint Georges to rescue maidens 

om them. But Kad Shuker believes that 

- J sens are not obsolete, so he wrote Drag- 

o.- .'i Nauir-K History, a coUeccion of dragon 

nom 31 over the world, set off with an 

laipressive assortment of illustrations. 

Shuker. who describes himself as a "dracon- 

: rites that his book "takes as its 

theme the great variety and classification of 
dragon tv-pes, delineating their evolutionary? 
transformation from simple, serpentine 
forms to much more complex specialized 

In "Serpent Dragons," the first of his five 
chapters, Shuker tells us about those that 
evolved from snakes: the Lambton worm (a 
monstrous, aquatic fifteenth-centur\' worm 
that purportedly terrorized a village in 
Durham, England) and Jormungander, the 
Midgard serpent (a mythological Norse crea- 
ture ultimately slain by Thor) and the giant 
leech of North America (a fort\--foot, dug- 
Uke beast that figured in Passamaquoddy and 
Cherokee traditions). "Semi-Dragons," 

which fall somewhere between classics 'hi 

dragons and serpents, are represented by th 
lindorm; Fafiiir (made famous in Wagner 
Ring of the \'iebehingen): the w\-vem; the se 
dragon of Ass\Tia; and the elusive tatzel 
worm. Then w« haxje "Classical Dragons^ 
including the fire-breathing beasts depictei sji 
in so many Western paintings. Paolo Uc 
cello's version is a rather strange-lookiit 
two-le^ed beast with the hind legs of 
t\Tannosaur, no forelegs whatsoever, ani 
leather\" wings adorned with what appear t< si 
be insignia fix)m World War I biplanes 

A "Sk\- Dragon" spends most of its tim- 
in the air and therefore must hsve wings 
The Aztec god Quetzalcoad, the Plum© 



iigold and enamel corsage ornament impiivd 
ly the ni)ie-headed Lernaeaii hydra 

erpent, is the quintessential sky dragon, 
ther species seem to have wings but do not 
ly. Shuker places various wingless Japanese 
nd Chinese dragons in this category be- 
ause, as he explains, they can fly anyway. 

His final category is "Neo-Dragons," a 
i;rab bag that includes the African crowing 
•rested cobra, the many-headed hydra in its 
'arious guises throughout folk history, and 
he Loch Ness monster, classified as a "long- 
lecked sea lizard." 

Although he includes some of the im- 
igery of heraldry, Shuker largely ignores this 
Mragon-rich subject. He does not mention, 
I or example, the twelfth-century work Phys- 
ologus (translated by T. H. White as Tlie Book 
^\0fx\lf Beasts), an important source of the reli- 
(1k jjious and secular iconography ot the Middle 
['Ages. It describes 


ive tad- 

DRACO the Dragon, the higgest of all 
serpents, in fact, of all liulng things on 
earth. . . . The Devil, who is the most 
enormous of all reptiles, is like this dragon. 
He is said to have a crest or croivn because 
he is like the King of Pride, and his 
strength is not in his teeth but in his tail 
because he beguiles those whom he draws in 
by deceit, their strength being destroyed. 

Shuker only mentions in passing Edward 
pijiijtjTopsell's 1607 Historic of Foiire-Footed Beastes, 

?iolo U(] 
legs of 
)tm, )»' 
of its* 

Depiction of the W'antlcy dragon of Elizabethan England 

a rich source of Elizabethan England's atti- 
tudes toward real and imaginary animals. It is 
not clear whether Topsell — or any of his 
contemporaries, for that matter — believed 
that dragons (or manticores, gorgons, uni- 
corns, or any other creatures whose exis- 
tence has stiU not been verified) actually e.x- 
isted, since sixteenth-century zoology 
seamlessly combined superstition and fact, 
myth and observation. To people largely re- 
stricted to the towns in which they had been 
born, fabulous creatures were certainly pos- 
sible, as confirmed by the first European ap- 
pearance of a giratfe or a rhinoceros. 

Aside from the charming iconography and 
the art historical references, what do dragons 

have to do with us? Where are today's drag- 
ons? I went to the Internet, checked one 
web crawler for "dragon," and found 104 
entries. Not too much about Saint George; a 
whole lot of stuff about Dungeons and Drag- 
ons, the computer game ("links to all the 
Multi-User Dungeons and Dragons sites you 
can find in Singapore"); artists who like to 
draw dragons ("3-D computer dragons. 
Aliens, Whales, all hand-modeled tfom the 
weird and twisted mind of Andrew Denton 
rendered in Imagine and Light\vave 3D"); 
figurines; comic books; Dragon's Eye Soft- 
ware; "some useful and interesting links 
about China"; "Anne McCaffrey's Drag- 
onriders of Pern"; the Barcelona Dragons ot 

Natural Se.leCtiOnS Natural History 2/9f 

the World Football League; Dragon-boat 
rowing; and the "SunDragon solar car team." 
Dragons appear to be alive and well — at least 
in cyberspace. 

We needed dragons five hundred years 
ago, and we need them still. Regardless of 
the form they take, dragons seem destined to 
be an important part of our collective un- 
conscious. As Harvard biologist E. O. Wil- 
son writes in "The Serpent," a chapter in 
the book Biophilia, "The snake and the ser- 
pent, flesh and blood reptile and demonic 
dream image, reveal the complexity of our 
relation to nature and the fascination and 
beauty inherent in all forms of organisms. 
Even the deadliest and most repugnant crea- 
tures bring an endowment of magic to the 
human mind." 

The "real" animals held to be responsible 
for some of the dragon or sea serpent stories, 
such as the crocodile, the Komodo dragon, 
the African rock python, and the oarfish, re- 
ceive only perfunctory discussions. Shuker 
does not even mention that Draco is now the 
generic name of a family of "flying" agamid 
Hzards found in Southeast Asia and Indone- 
sia. Somewhat surprisingly, a page is devoted 
to a discussion of the protowhales known as 
zeuglodonts, where the author writes that 
"while true snakes can only flex their bodies 
into horizontal coils, zeuglodonts could un- 
dulate vertically, so corresponding not only 
with many lake and sea monsters, reported in 
modern times, but also with legends of 
aquatic serpent dragons." 

Despite corroborated evidence that the 
famous Loch Ness monster's "surgeon s pho- 
tograph" was a hoax (the nephew of the man 
who faked it confessed on his deathbed that 
he had been part of the 1934 conspiracy), 
monster-hunters continue to diligently pa- 
trol the shores of the loch. "Nessie" is one of 
the contemporary "dragons" in this book. 
The International Society of Cryptozoology 
flourishes. Dragons and other monsters have 
acquired an importance that extends far be- 
yond their identification with real animals. 
Something in us requires natural mystery 
along with our natural history. 

Richard Ellis is an illustrator and writer special- 
izing in marine natural histoiy. His books in- 
clude Men and Whales, ivAonsters of the Sea, 
and the forthcoming Deep Adantic: Life, 
Death, and Exploration in the Abyss. 

Boo k s h e f^ 

Rain of Iron and Ice 

By John S. Lewis (Helix Books /Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1996, $20) 
A planetary scientist analyzes the iniphcations of comet impacts for life on earth. 

The Three Big Bangs 

By Philip M. Dauber and Richard A. Midler (Helix Books /Addison-Wesley Publisliing 
Company, 1996, $25) 

The coUision of comet Shoemaker-Levy with Jupiter convinced these astronomers 
that three such cosmic, cataclysmic events paved the way for human life. 

The Mojave 

By David DarHngton (Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1996, $25) 

A writer's panorama of the ecology and human history of this vast western desert. 

Lucy's Bones, Sacred Stones, and Einstein's Brain 

By Harvey Rachlin (Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1996, $25) 
Vignettes about some famous finds. 

The Time Before History 

By Colin Tudgc (Scribner, 1996, $27.50) 

Essayist Tudge traces the impact of human evolution on our planet and predicts 

catastrophic social and ecological consequences if population growth is not 


How Life Begins 

By Christopher Vaughan (Times Books /Random House, 1996, $32) 

A biomedical writer examines the nine months of life in the womb. 

Braving the Elements 

By David Laskin (Doubleday, 1996, $23.95) 

Laskin tracks the vagaries of climate from Paleo-Indian times to the present. 

Of Tigers and Men 

By Richard Ives (Doubleday /Nan A. Talese, 1996, $24.95) 
Ives, who has worked as a trekking guide in Southeast Asia, explores India's 
dwindling forest and jungle habitats and concludes that India's tigers will be 
extinct in another twenty-five years. 

Swamp Screamer 

By Charles Fergus (North Point Press/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1996, $23) 
A natural history of the fifty surviving Florida panthers. 

Handmade Wilderness 

By Don Schueler (Houghton Mifflin Co., 1996, $21.95) 
What begins in 1968 as an eighty-acre spot of "the least worst land" in 
Mississippi's backwoods evolves through the labors of two friends into a 
200-acre wildlife refuge. 



The first inhabitants of 
North America migrated over 
the Bering Strait hind Bridge 
10,000 to 15,000 years ago. 

abitants of the continent for more than 10,000 
years, the Indians of North America hved in 
complete harmony with their environment, viewing 
nature as an iimate part of their spirit and soul. 
Now, in three remarkable books, the centuries-old 
story of the native American — their history, 
culture, myths, and deep bond with nature — 
unfolds before your eyes. 

Atlas of the NoiHi American Indian 

Carl Waldman 

In the year 1000 A.D., a time when much of the 
world stilled toiled in the twilight of the Dark 
Ages, a North American people, the Tbltecs, were 
wrapped in a joyous embrace with nature. They 
were developing improved strains of maize, squash, 
and com. Crafting fine objects in gold and sihier 
And erecting elaborate colonnaded halls. These 
are just some of the many remarkable facts you'll 
find in this fascinating reference. Over 100 
handsomely illustrated historical, military, cultural, 
and period maps show you tribal locations, 
migrations, land cessions, and key battles. A 
comprehensive appendbt provides a n at-a-glance 
chronology of Indian history. 
Publisher's Price: $30.00 

Encyclopedia of Native 
American Tribes 

Carl Waldman 

At the height of their stewardship 
over North America, more than 
150 Indian nations thrWed from 
the frozen tundras of Alaska to the 
steamyjungles of the Yucatan. Here, 

Spectacular earthen mounds marked 
Indian burial sites and housed 
religious temples 






for only $295 

A $92.95 VALUE! 

As your introduction to the Natural Science Book Club. 

You simply agree to buy 3 more books — at significant 

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in one volume, the strikingly diverse ways of 
life of all these tribes emerge. You'll find 
alphabetically organized summaries of every 
tribe and people, from the Algonquian to the 
Zuni. You'll also find descriptions of Indian life 
in 12 m^or cultural areas, from the Subarctic 
to the Southwest. Throughout, you'll gain 
insight into tribal languages, means of 
subsistence, religion, and crafts. Over 250 
color illustrations paint a vivid picture of 
Indian life through the years. 
Publisher's Price: $35.00 

Voices of the Winds 

Margot Edmonds and Ella E. Clark 

Whether Aleut or Navaho, Cheyenne or 
Cherokee, all Indians believe that everything 
in nature possesses a secret life within. And in 
this memorable book, you'll find revealed 
native Americ ans' myths and legends — a 

treasure trove of oral history 
ft-om more than 60 tribes. In 
simple, lyrical language, tribal 
storytellers weave scores of 
fascinating tales into a 
compelling tapestry 
chronicling creation, the 
origin of fire, the beauty of the 
environment, and mystical 
truths. Nowhere else will you 
find such an evocative 
depiction of tribal tradition 
and Indian culture, spirit, and wisdom. 
Publisher's Price: $27.95 

nolo in Molly Braui 

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Natural History 2/96 4-DP5 

^ ^ J ^ J. J. J.- g.J. J.J.^.3LJ C J-J-J.J. J .3LJL J-J.J.J- 


Natural Selections Naiurai History 2/96 

The Variety of Supernatural Experience 

//; his new book, The Demon- 
Haunted World, astronomer Carl 
Sagan decries — and tries to 
understand — the persistence of 
pseudoscientific thinking in an 
ostensibly scientific age. UFOology 
and belief in alien abductions, 
Sagan argues, are only the most 
recent manifestation of a need to 
"wrap up the old gods and demons 1 
scientific raiment. " 


In 1645 a Cornish 
teen-ager, Anne Jef- 
feries, was found groggy, crumpled 
on the floor of her home. Much 
later, she recalled being attacked by 
half a dozen little men, carried par- 
alyzed to a castle in the air, seduced, 
and returned home. She called the 
Uttle men fairies, who returned to 
terrify and torment her. (For many 
pious Christians, as for the inquisi- 
tors of Joan of Arc, fairies were 
demons, plain and simple.) The 
next year she was arrested for 

Fairies traditionally have magical 
powers and can cause paralysis by the merest 
touch. The ordinary passage of time is 
slowed in fairyland. Fairies are reproduc- 
tively impaired, so they have sex with hu- 
mans and carry off babies from their cra- 
dles — sometimes leaving a fairy substitute, a 
"changeling." Now it seems a fair question: 
If Anne Jefferies had grown up in a culture 
touting aliens rather than fairies, and UFOs 
rather than casdes in the air, would her story 
have been distinguishable in any significant 
respect fi-om the ones "abductees" tell? 

In his 1982 book. The Terror That Comes in 
the Night, David Hufford describes an execu- 
tive in his mid-thirties who recalled a sum- 
mer spent as a teen-ager in his aunt's house. 
One night, he saw mysterious lights moving 
;n the harbor. Afterward, he fell asleep. From 
n;s bed he then witnessed a white, glowing 
h^Lre climoing the stairs. She entered his 
room, paused, aiid then said — andcHmacti- 
caijy, it seems to me — "That is the 
linoleum." Some nights the figure was an old 

^4 space alien meets Ross Perot. 

woman; other nights, an elephant. Some- 
times the young man was convinced the en- 
tire busmess was a dream; other times he was 
certain he was awake. He was pressed down 
into his bed, paralyzed, unable to move or 
cry out. His heart was pounding. He was 
short of breath. Similar events occurred on 
many consecutive nights. What was happen- 
ing here? These events took place before 
alien abductions were widely described. If 
the young man had known about alien ab- 
ductions, would his old woman have had a 
larger head and bigger eyes? 

In a famous passage in Tlie Decline and Fall 
of the Roman Empire. Edward Gibbon de- 
scribed the practice of superstition "so con- 
genial to the multitude"; 

If they are forcibly awakened, they still 
regret the loss of their pleasing vision. Tlieir 
love of the marvellous and supernatural, 
their curiosity with regard to future events, 
and their strong propensity to extend their 

hopes and fears beyond the limits 
of the visible world, were the 
principal causes which favored the 
establishment of Polytheism. So 
urgent on the vulgar is the 
necessity of believing, that the fall 
of any system of mythology ivill 
most probably be succeeded by the 
introduction of some other 
mode of superstition. 

Put aside Gibbon's social snob- 
bery: the devil tormented th( 
upper classes too, and even a king- 
James I, England's first Stuar 
monarch — wrote a credulous anc 
superstitious book on demon 
{Daemonologie, 1597). He also wa' 
the patron of the great Englisl: 
translation of the Bible that stil 
bears his name. It was King James 
opinion that tobacco was thf 
"devil's weed," and a number o 
witches were exposed through thei; 
addiction to this drug. But by 1628 
James had become a thoroughgoing 
skeptic — mainly because adoles- 
cents had been found faking de 
monic possession, in which state they hac 
accused innocent people of witchcraft. If wt 
reckon that even a Uttle of the rampant gulli- 
bility he attributes to late classical times is lef 
over in ours, should we not expect some- 
thing like demons to find a mche in the pop- 
ular culture of the present? 

Of course, as enthusiasts for extraterres- 
trial visitations are quick to remind me 
there's another interpretation of these histor- 
ical parallels: Aliens, they say, have alway 
been visiting us, poking at us, impregnatinf 
us. In earlier times we recognized them x 
gods, demons, fairies, or spirits; only now del 
we understand that it's aliens who've beer 
diddHng us all these mUlennia. But then why 
are there virtually no reports of flying saucer 
prior to 1947? 

Excerpted from The Demon-Haunted World: 
Science as a Candle in the Dark, 
by Carl Sagan. Published by Random House 
in January 1996. 

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N a tu r a r S e 1 e cti n s 

The Inside Story 

By Howard Topoff 

^'D - R 0"M Much to his fathers dismay, 
Charles Darwin dropped out 
of medical school, repulsed by the sight of 
blood and guts during surger\' without anes- 
thesia. If your curiosity about the human 
body is also tempered by a certain queasiness, 
say hello to A.D.A.M. (Animated Dissection 
of Anatomy for Medicine), a multimedia ex- 
perience that lets the entire family discover 
the secrets of the human body. 

The "guts" of A.D.A.M. is the Family 
Album, in which Adam and Eve use ani- 
mated video, text, and articulate narration to 
guide us on a system-by-system voyage into 
the body. The module on reproduction — 
there are twelve modules in all — is done ex- 
pUcidy and tastefiiUy. The cardio\'ascular s)'s- 
tem illustrates blood flow through a normal 
heart, and wrhat happens to cardiac muscle 
during a heart attack. The h-mphatic s\-stem 
explains breast cancer and concludes with a 
tutorial for self examination. And the respi- 
ratory system, in addition to depicting the 
basics of ox\'gen exchange, provides a vivid 
iUustration of choking: a piece of celerj-, 
which ordinarily slides uneventfiilly down 
the esophagus, lodges in Adam's trachea. A 
fast-acting &iend uses the Heimlich maneu- 
ver to oust the monel, which Adam spits out 

as a green, semiliquid that splatters the inside 
of the computer screen. I thought it was 
pretty disgusting. My eleven-year-old 
daughter's reaction? Cool! 

A.D.A.M.s curriculum is diverse enough 
to capture the interest and curiosity of 
people differing widely in age and hormonal 
state. My daughter grabbed the mouse and 
immediately cUcked on "'Conception and 
Pregnancy." I had somewhat different con- 
cerns and headed straight for "Enlarged 
Prostate Gland." 

Rounding out AJD-A,M. is an artistically 
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glossars" of biological terms, and six jigsaw 
puzzles in which you rearrange body organs 
to form functional systems. Even if you're 
not in medical school, rely on A.D.A.M. to 
pro\ide hours of solid education and great 
fim to boot. 

A.D.A.M. Software, Inc. 

1600 River Edge Parkway (Suite 800) 

Adanta, GA 30328. $40. 

Howard Topoff is a professor of psychology at 
CUWs Hunter College and a research associate 
ill the American Museum's Department of 

Loggmg-on to 
the Next Frontier 

By Robert Anderson 

n a t U r eTlT^ Like ever)T:hing else 
JHi on the Internet, nat- 
ural-history-related web sites are multiphing 
exponentially-. Some of the best sites I have 
come across w«re created {not surprisingjv) 
by people who were wired up years before 
the rest of us — the astronomers and planetary- 
scientists who have been beaming data and 
images from their global netv\-otk of obser\a- 
tories and far-flimg space probes for decades. 

After I overheard someone discussing the 
spectacular new images from the repaired 
Hubble space telescope, I turned to the 
computer (http://w-ww^ 
tures.html) to get a glim pse of the three star- 
fonning pillars of M16, the Eagle Nebula. 
Checking ever\- few- days for new images. I 
saw four stars surrounded by protoplanetars' 
disks in the Orion Nebula. Looking at the 
disks was like peering back 4.5 biUion years 
to the formation of our owti solar s\fstem. 

For discoveries a bit closer to home, wy 
The Nine Planets (\ 
planet/nineplanecs.html); to follow- the latest 
developments of the spacecraft Galileo as it 
orbits Jupiter, see 
/gahleo. The site 
gi\'es you the information needed to spot 
comets. Eight that are currendy visible are 
listed: but since I Kve in ligjit-polluted mid- 
towTQ Manhattan, the w^eb is probabh' the 
best place for me to see them. 

Robert Anderson is an editor at 

Natural Histor%-. 

^n6 as seen from the Hu 



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, he American Museum of Natural 
History has sponsored thousands of scientific 

expeditions in an effort to untangle the 
world's greatest mysteries. It is this urge to 

discover and understand that inspires 

Discovery Tours, the Museum's educational 

travel department. 

Join our world-renowned scientists on 

an adventure of discovery. 

Discovery Tours 



We use a range of vessels, 
including icebreakers, expedition 
ships, and deluxe yachts, to bring 
Museum travelers the most 
unusual cruises available. Each is 
designed exclusively for the 
American Museum of Natural 
History, and a stimulating 
enrichment program is led by a 
distinguished team of Museum 
and guest lecturers. 

Patagonia to Peru 

March 19 -April 4, 1996 
From S6,670 

Singapore to Bombay 

March30-Aprill9, 1996 
From $6, 1 95 from New York 

Wonders of tlie Amazon 

April 11 -22, 1996 
From $3,625 

Ancient Coast of Turkey 

May 27 -June 9, 1996 
From S4,895 

Rome to Atiiens 

June6-18, 1996 

From S4,980 from New York 

Alasl<a's Coastal Wilderness 

June 23 -30, 1996 
From S3,002 

'Round Britain 

June26-July 10, 1996 
From $5,480 

Bridging the Bering Strait 

June 29 -July 11,1996 
From $4,745 

Wildlife of the Galapagos: 
A Family Adventure 

July 2 -12. 1996 
From $3,970 for adults 
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Scandinavia and the Baltic 

July 14-27, 1996 
From $4,195 

The Northwest Passage 

July 20 -August 5, 1996 
From $11,980 

Romantic Waterways: 
Vienna to Frankfurt 

September 14-21, 1996 
From $3,780 

Passage to Suez 

October 2 -14, 1996 
From $4,595 from New York 

Ancient Egypt and the Nile 

October 14-30, 1996 
From $6,240 from New York 


Aboard our privately-chartered 
trains, travelers are able to explore 
remote areas often inaccessible by 
other modes of fransportation. We 
traverse some of the world's most 
legendary rail routes aboard trains 
equipped with very comfortable 

Copper Canyon 

March 2 -10, 1996 

National Parks of the West 

May 19-28, 1996 
From $3,990 

Royal Scotsman: 
England and Scotland 

May20-June 1,1996 

The Amber Route of Europe 

May 24 -June 3. 1996 

Beijing to Moscow 

June 13 -28. 1996 
From $6,980 

Southern Africa: 
An Historic Safari 

August 31 - September 17, 1996 
$12,140 from New York 

Istanbul to Damascus 

September 18 - October 4, 1996 
From $6,590 


Far from the standard tourist track, 
our land tours are designed to 
provide a small group of travelers 
with an in -depth and enriching 
experience. Study leaders are 
selected for their extensive know- 
ledge of the destinations and their 
desire to share this knowledge with 
Museum travelers. 

Natural Wonders and 
Wildlife of Venezuela 

March 21 -April 3, 1996 
$4,551 from Miami 

New York City Weekend 

April 25 -29, 1996 

Origins of Man: 

South Africa and Botswana 

May 3 -19, 1996 

Cornwall Walk 

May6-15, 1996 
$3,650 from New York 

Botswana: Desert and Delta 

August 31 -Sept. 16.1996 

Himalayan Kingdoms: 
Nepal and Bhutan 

September 10-27, 1996 
Price to be announced 


September 28 - October 12. 1996 
$4,750 from New York 

Peru Expedition 

October 12-26, 1996 
Approx. $3,990 


For those in search of more 
outdoor-oriented educational 
programs, our field trips offer 
somewhat more rigorous journeys 
in renowned natural settings. 
Traveling into wilderness areas 

with expert study leaders, 
participants enjoy splendid 
surroundings and hands-on 

Archaeology and Rock Art 
of the San Juan River 

May 10-15, 1996 

Digging for Dinosaur Fossils 
In the Rockies 

July6-13, 1996 

df Natural History 

For a complete list of destinations, contact the Discovery Tours Office. ^ 

Central Park West at 79th Street, New York, NY 10024 Tol^free: 80O462-8687 New York: 212-769^700 


-> A', 




This View of Life; 

What separated Darwin's 
xanscendent greatness from 
anies Dwielit Dana's 

On a Toothed Bird's 
Place in Nature 

We do not usually 
surrender the intellectual 
system of a lifetime for one 
bit of information that 
does not fit 

By Stephen Jay Gould 

I have long considered Abraham Lincoln 
to be Charles Darwin's American soul- 
mate — for they were born on the same day 
of February 12, 1809. But perhaps the ac- 
cidents of joint beginnings should not de- 
fine a concept of such intimacy. If soul- 
mates must be linked more tightly by their 
■' active choices, then Darwin's American 
alter ego can only be his fellow scientist 
James Dwight Dana (1813-1895)— geolo- 
gist, biologist, longtime professor at Yale, 
and surely America's preeminent indige- 
nous natural historian of the nineteenth 
century. (Louis Agassiz, the other obvious 
contender, was born in Switzerland and 
did his important scientific work in Eu- 
rope before coming to Harvard University 
in the late 1840s.) 

Dana and Darwin never met person- 
ally — although they both expressed a 
warm desire to do so in their numerous 

letters. But their careers and interests ran 
in intricate, almost eerily parallel courses. 
(I suppose that true soulmates should 
match their lives by completely indepen- 
dent choices.) 

Both men had their scientific baptism in 
a long sea voyage around the world — Dar- 
win on the Beagle from 1831 to 1836, and 
Dana on the Wilkes Expedition of 
1838—1842, young America's greatest in- 
ternational scientific journey, dispatched 
primarily to assess the whaling prospects of 
southern oceans. Both men then built 
their scientific careers on the same two 
subjects, inspired by their travels. 

Darwin's first scientific book, published 
in 1842, presented a correct theory on the 
origin of coral reefs and atolls by subsi- 
dence of a central island, with continued 
upgrowth of living coral at the edges. 
Dana also became fascinated with corals 
when he visited Pacific reefs. In 1839, 
while ashore in Sydney, Dana chanced 
, upon a description of Darwin's ideas in a 
local newspaper. With this inspiration, 
Dana produced the other major nine- 

Stepbenjay Gould reaches biology, geology, 
and the history of science at Harvard Uiiiivr- 
sity. He is also Frederick P. Rose Honorary 
Curator in Invertebrates at the American Mu- 
seum of Natural History. 

teenth-century work on coral reefs — 
Corals and Coral Islands, substantially sup- 
porting Darwin's "subsidence theory" but 
based on far more extensive observations 
than Darwin had been able to make. In the 
preface to the second edition of his coral 
reet book, Darwin wrote: 

The first edition of this book appeared in 
1842, and since then only one important 
work on the same subject has appeared, 
namely . . . by Professor Dana. . . . It has 
also afforded me the highest satisfaction to 
find that he accepts the fimdamerital propo- 
sition that lagoon-islands or atolls, and bar- 
rier-reefs, have been formed during periods 
of subsidence. 

Both Darwin and Dana did their major 
technical work in zoologv' on the taxon- 
omy of the same group ot organisms — the 
crustacean arthropods. Darwin published 
four volumes between 1851 and 1854 on 
the oddest of Crustacea, the barnacles. 
Dana spent fourteen years of research and 
study on specimens collected by the 
Wilkes Expedition and pubhshed his finest 
work in 1852 — t\vo volumes on the tax- 
onomy of crustaceans. In fact, Darwin's 
barnacles inspired their first personal con- 
tact m 1849, when Darwin wrote to ask if 
he might borrow specimens coUected by 

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Charles Darvs^in Slept Here! 

The Galapagos Islands 

In 1 835, Charles Darwin (develope(d his s\u6y of the evolution 
of the species in the Galapagos Islands. 

One hundred and fifty-nine years later this magnificent archipel- 
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conducted his research there in the middle of the nineteenth century. 

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Dana's expedition (thus, the striking simi- 
larity- ot their careers had developed with- 
out any direct mutual encouragement). 
Darwin wrote, rather tormaUy: 

/ hope {hilt you will forgive the liberty I 
take in addressina you . . . in order to beg, 
if it lies in your power, assistance. . . . It is 
wy earnest imsh to make my monograph as 
perfect as I can. Can you lend me any spe- 
cies collected during your great expedition? 

Dana replied, warmlv but sadlv, that he 
would be personally delighted to do so, 
but had neither possession nor authority 
over the specimens. Darwin understood 
and wrote Dana a long letter ot praise for 
his work, noting: "You cannot imagine 
how- much gratihed I ha\-e been that you 
have to a certain extent agreed with my 
coral island notions." 

A warm epistolary friendship ensued, 
Darwin WTOte three years later, in 1852: 

You ask whether I shall ever come to the 
United States. I can assure you that no tour 
whatei'er could be half so interesting to me, 
but with my large family I do not suppose 
that I shall ever leave home. It would be a 
real pleasure for me to make your personal 

(Darwin knew himself well. After saihng 
around the world and returning to Eng- 
land, Darwin never again left his island 
home; he never e\en crossed the EngUsh 

The next vear. Darwin enthused over 
Dana's recently published volumes on 

If you had done nothing else whatever, it 
would have been a magnum opus for life. 
Forgive my presuming to estimate your 
labors, but when I think that this work has 
followed your Corals and your GeologN; I 
aw really lost in astonishment at what you 
have done in mental labor And then, be- 
sides the labor, so much originality in all 
your works! 

Despite this effusion of warmth and 
mutual support, Dana and Dar\\in in- 
evitably parted company on the great issue 
that would define their time (and ours). 



)inviii in- ! 
tad o4 i 

Atlanta Housewife Investigated And 
Almost Arrested For Losing 73 Pounds 

Did you ever notice that when you're fat, 
people actually stare at you while you 
eat. It's as if they want to tap you on the 
shoulder and say, "If you wouldn't eat that 
stuff, you wouldn't be so fat!" 

Hello. My name is Kate Maldoney. You 
don't know me from Adam. But I'm a real 
person. I hve near Sandy Springs, Georgia. 
And, up until two years ago, I was the fat 
lady that eveiyone was staring at. 

I was too tired to go out with my friends at 
night. I was even embarrassed to go out on 
weekends by myself I waddled when I 
walked. I sweat when I ate. I wore anything 
loose that would hang straight down and 
wouldn't cling. I couldn't even cross my legs. I 
wasn't just "overweight." I was fat. I was 5'4" 
and weighed 202 pounds. 

I went to my doctor for help. But I wasn't 
optimistic. During the past seven years I had 
tried 16 different diets. One by one. And I 
failed at all of them, 

My doctor listened to me very carefully and 
then recommended an entirely different pro- 
gram. This wasn't a "diet." It was a unique 
new weight-loss progi'am researched by a 
team of bariatric physicians — specialists 
who treat the severely obese. The program 
itself was developed by Dr. James Cooper of 
Atlanta, Georgia. 

I started the program on May 17th. Within 
the first four days, I only lost three pounds. 
So I was disappointed. But during the three 
weeks that followed, my weight began to 
drop. Rapidly. Within the next 196 days, I 
went from 202 pounds to 129 pounds. 

The reason the program worked was 
simple: I was always eating. 

I could eat six times every day. So I never 
felt deprived. Never hungry. I could snack in 
the afternoon. Snack before dinner. I could 
even snack at night while I was watching TV. 

How can you eat so much and still lose 

The secret is not in the amount of food you 
eat. It's in the prescribed combination of foods 
you eat in each 24-hour period. Nutritionally 
dense portions of special fiber, unrefined car- 
bohydrates, and certain proteins that gener- 
ate a calorie-burning process that continues 
all day long ... a complete 24-hour fat-reduc- 
tion cycle. 

Metabolism is evened out, so fat is burned 
away around the clock. Not just in unhealthy 
spurts like many diets. That's why it lets you 
shed pounds so easily. Without hunger. With- 
out nervousness. 

By Kathleen Ann Maldoney 

And it's all good wholesome food. No 
weird stuff You'll enjoy a variety of meats, 
chicken, fish, vegetables, potatoes, pasta, 
sauces — plus your favorite snacks. Lots of 

This new program must be the best kept 
secret in America. Because, up until now, 
it's only been available to doctors. No one 
else. In fact, the Clinic-30 Program has been 
used by 142 doctors in the U.S. and Canada 
to treat more than 9,820 patients, So it's 
doctor-tested. And proven. This is the first 
time it's been available to the public. 

There are other benefits too ... 

• There are no amphetamines. No drugs of 
any kind. 

• No pills. No powders. No chalky-tasting 
drinks to mix. Everything's at your local 
supermarket. No special foods to buy. 

• There's no strenuous exercise program. 

• You don't count calories. Just follow the 
program. It's easy. 

• It's low in sodium, so you don't hold 

• You eat the foods you really enjoy. Great 
variety. Great taste. 

• You can dine out. 

• There's no ketosis. No bad breath odor. 
But here's the best part ... 

Once you lose the weight, you can keep it 
off. Permanently! Because you're not hungry 
all the time. 

Let's face it. We all have "eating Ufe- 
styles." Our eating habits usually include 
three meals a day. Plus two or three snacks. 
We all love snacks. Especially at night. 

But most diets force us to change all that. 

And that's why they fail! 

The Clinic-30 Program lets you continue 
your normal eating lifestyle. You can eat six 
times a day. You can snack when you wish. 
So, when you lose the weight, you can keep 
it off. For good. Because no one's forcing you 
to change. 

Here are some other patients from Geor- 
gia who entered Dr, Cooper's Clinic-30 Pro- 
gram with me ,.. 

• Reverend Donald F, is a 42-year-old 
minister who went from 227 to 179 in just 
four months. 

"In spite of church suppers, I've lost al- 
most 50 pounds in four months and I'm not 
having a rebound gain." 

• Renate M. was a G.I. bride from Ger- 
many who went from 212 to 140.2 in 8'/2 

"/ believe I was a participant in every 
weight-reducing plan there ever was. Then, 
about two years ago, I started the Clinic-30 
Program. And I haven't regained a pound." 

And then there's me. About 4 months ago 
I was stopped by a policeman for not using 
my turning signal. When he looked at my 
driver's license he claimed it wasn't mine. 
He said it had someone else's picture on it. 

After he called for a computer check, he 
came back to the car smiling, "You must 
have lost a lot of weight. This picture doesn't 
even look like you." I agreed. In a way, it 
was one of the nicest "warnings" I'd ever re- 

Obviously, Fm excited about the pro- 
gram. This is the first time it's been 
available outside of a chnical setting. Dr. 
Cooper has asked Green Tree Press, Inc. to 
distribute it. 

We'll be happy to send you the program to 
examine for 31 days. Show it to your doctor. 
Try it. There's no obligation. In fact, your 
check won't be cashed for 31 days. You may 
even postdate it 31 days in advance if you 

Choose a day and start the progi'am. If 
you don't begin losing weight within five 
days — and continue losing weight — we'll 
promptly return your original uncashed 
check. No delays. No excuses. 

Or keep it longer. Try it for six months. 
Even then, if you're not continuing to lose 
weight on a regular basis, you'll receive a 
full refund. Promptly, And without question. 
This is the fairest way we know to prove to 
you how well this new progi'am works. 

To order, just send your name, address 
and postdated check for $12,95 (plus $3.00 
shipping/handling) to The Chnic-30 Pro- 
gram, c/o Green Tree Press, Inc., Dept, 936, 
3603 West 12th Street, Erie, PA 16505, 


As your weight begins to drop, do not al- 
:ow yourself to become too thin. 

It's also very important to consult your 
physician before commencing any weight- 
loss program. Show him this program. 
And be sure to see him periodically if you 
intend to take off large amounts of weight. 

Green Tree Press is a member of tlie Erie. 
Pennsyhania Chamber of Commerce, Bank and 
business references are a\ ailable upon request- 

1996 Green Tree Press, Inc. 

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I A M E R I C A 

the nuinero iiiio, the big enchilada — evolu- 
tion itself. As I shall document later, Dana 
did eventually succumb to the inevitable in 
the mid- 1870s, but his late support for 
evolution always remained stricdy limited, 
clearly begrudging, and only admitted as a 
necessary device to save as much as pos- 
sible of his unaltered worldview. Dana re- 
mained a staunch, if always cordial, oppo- 
nent of evolution throughout the great 
debates of the 1860s, the defining decade 
after Darwin published the Origin of Species 
m 1859. 

Dar\vin sent Dana a copy of the first 
edition, but Dana's health had broken, and 
he did not read the book until 1863. 
Nonetheless, Dana could not avoid the 
issue when publishing the first edition of 
his most famous work in 1862 — the Maii- 
ual of Geology. 'While stating his opposition 
in the book, Dana also thought that he 
owed his epistolary friend a personal ex- 
planation. So he wrote to Darwin on Feb- 
ruary 5, 1863: "1 hope that ere this you 
have the copy of the Geology (and without 
any charge of expense, as was my inten- 
tion), I have still to report your book un- 
read; tor my head has all it can now do in 
my college duties," 

Dana then spelled out his major objec- 
tions, all paleontological, in a series of 
three points. Dana's arguments sho^v that 
his opposition rested upon a personal def- 
inition ot evolution as a necessarily pro- 
gressive and gradual process — that is, tor 
evolution to be true in Dana's judgment, 
the history of life would have to proceed 
by slow and steady transformation from 
simple to complex forms in each hneage, 
Dana then listed his objections: 

/, Tlie absence, in the great majority of 
cases, of those transitions by small differences 
required by such a theory. 

2. Tliefact of the commencement of types in 
some cases by their higher groups of species 
instead of the lower 

3. Tlie fact that with the transitions in the 
strata and formations, the exterminations of 
species often cut the threads of genera, fami- 
lies, and tribes . . . and yet the threads have 
been started again in new species. 

These are all traditional objections — 
lack of transitional forms, first seolosical 

appearance of advanced rather than primi- 
tive members ot a hneage, and mass ex- 
tinctions — and Darwm rebutted them all 
(not entirely successfully as later history 
would show) by arguing that a woefijUy 
imperfect fossil record would render a 
gradual and progressive history of hfe in 
this deceptive manner. Dar^vin did feel 
that he owed Dana a personal reply and 
wrote back with his usual rationale on 
Februars' 20, 1863, just two weeks after 
Dana had dated his letter — not bad for sea 
transport of mail during the Ci\'il "War: 

With respect to the change of species, I fully 
admit your objections are perfectly valid. I 
have noticed them. . . . I admit the same 
if the geological record is not excessively 

Then, in the only hint of rancor that I 
have ever detected in their correspon- 
dence, Darwin upbraids Dana for stating 
these objections without reading his 
book — although he quickly backs off into 
his usual geniality, and also assures his 
friend that he only felt aggrieved because 
Dana's opinion carried so much weight: 

.45 my book has been lately somewhat at- 
tended to [lovely British understatement], 
perhaps it would have been better if when 
you condemned all such views, you had 
stated that you had not been able yet to read 
it. But pray do not suppose that I think for 
one instant that, with your strong and 
slowly acquired convictions and immense 
knowledge, you could have been converted. 
Tlie utmost that I could have hoped would 
have been that you might possibly have been 
here or there staggered. 

The personal and intellectual drama of 
Darwin and Dana provides the main sub- 
ject for this essay, but 1 also \\Tite to illus- 
trate a broader theme in the hves of schol- 
ars and the nature ot science: the 
integrative power ot \\-orldviews (the posi- 
tive side), and their hold as conceptual 
locks upon major innovation (the negative 
side). 1 will argue that Dana was not be- 
nighted, stupid, or particularly stubborn, 
leather, he maintained a consistent, well- 
articulated, and clearly coherent theor\' of 
God and Ufe — a worldview that just didn't 

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contain any logical space for a Darwinian 
concept ot naturalistic evolution. One 
does not (and probably should not) surren- 
der the system ot a lifetime for one appar- 
ently errant bit of information. 

The issue of when to hold firm as sug- 
gestions of factual collapse accumulate — 
and when to plunge with abandon into 
the breach — defines the most interesting 
and important dilemma of intellectual au- 
tobiography, for this question defines the 
borderline between competence and ge- 
nius, or between sensibiUty and crankiness. 
In some crucial sense, the geniuses of his- 
tory are people who know when to 
plunge and how to create the instruments 
of successful assault and replacement. But 
remember that probably 99 percent of per- 
sonal plunges wiU fling potential heroes 
into whirlpools of error and erasure from 

Still, the message of these failures must 
not inspire calls for sticking Avith the tried 
and true at all costs — or else the earth 
would still occupy the center of a small 
universe and people would still be the 
manufactured incarnations of a divinely 
defined perfection. Most people, includ- 
ing the most pohshed intellectuals of every 
generation, never dare to take the 
plunge — and their reward is another form 
of erasure from history. (I have just finished 
Umberto Eco's remarkable new novel, TIte 
Island of the Day Before — set in the 1640s at 
the crux of conflict between expiring 
Neoplatonism and the new mechanical 
view of the universe. We revere the 
plungers Descartes and Newton; who, but 
a few professional scholars, has ever heard 
of their contemporary Athanasius Kircher, 
the phenomenal Jesuit scholar and last of 
the great Neoplatonists? But the old 
guard's species of erasure has personal ad- 
vantages; a million anonymous "heretics" 
were burned at the stake; Kircher died 
peacefully in bed.) This phenomenon of 
psychology and society produced the old 
cliche, usually attributed to the nine- 
teenth-century German physicist Ernst 
Mach, that new theories only triumph 
fuUy when the old guard dies off. 

Dana's conservative, and ultimately su- 
perseded, worldview rested upon two cen- 
tral convictions that made Darwinian evo- 
lution impossible (not so much factually 

wrong as literally inconceivable within the 
system). First, Dana was as pure a Platonist 
as nineteenth-century biology could 
muster. He based his zoological ideas 
firmly on the old concept of "type" — an 
idealized form for each group of animals, 
with variation among individuals of a spe- 
cies as accidental departures from ideal 
propriet)', and variation among species as 
organized sequences of incarnated "laws of 
form," expressing the thoughts and plans 
of divinity. (Agassiz, Dana's equally Pla- 
tonic colleague, often argued that taxon- 
omy is the highest science — for each spe- 
cies is a divine idea made flesh, and the 
arrangement of species — which taxonomy 
seeks to discover — therefore expresses the 
structure ot divine thought. By under- 
standing the system of order among spe- 
cies, we therefore achieve our closest in- 
sight into the character of God's mind.) 

Second, Dana viewed the entire geolog- 
ical history of the earth and life as one 
long, coherent, and heroic story with a 
moral — a tale of inexorable progress, ex- 
pressed in both physical and biological his- 
tory, and leading, inevitably and purpose- 
fully, to God's final goal of a species with 
sufficient consciousness to glorify His 
name and works. The physical earth, ac- 
cording to Dana, developed through time 
with the same gradualistic progress that 
defined Mfe's history. By following three 
major trends — the emergence of more 
land from the sea, the progressive purifica- 
tion of the atmosphere, and increased 
global cooling with consequent increase in 
chmatic di\-ersity by formation of zones 
from poles to tropics — the earth became 
more and more suited to the successively 
higher forms of life that God created in 
each new episode of progress. For inhabi- 
tants of the land are generally "higher" 
than denizens of the sea; pure air inspires 
healthy complexity (shthering reptiles in 
murky swamps versus sinewy mammals on 
bright plains); cooler climates require such 
advances as warm-blooded metabolism. 
Dana wrote in his Manual of Geology: 

Thus the prevalence oj waters involved infe- 
riority of species. The increase of land, the 
gradual purification of the atmosphere, and 
the cooling of the globe, prepared the way for 
the higher species. 

Lest anyone be tempted to read the se- 
quence of successive creations, each with , 
increasing excellence, in an evolutionary 
manner a la Darwin, Dana always took 
pains to state that such a history could only 
record the direct actions of a loving God 
with a goal in mind. Dana wrote in 1856: • 

Tlie whole plan of creation liad evideiit ref- 
erence to Man as the end and crown of the 
animal kingdom, and to the present cool 
condition of the globe as, therefore, its most i 
exalted state. It is hence obvious that pro- ■ 
gression in the earth from a warmer to a 
cooler condition necessarily involved progres- 
sion from the lower to the higher races. . . . 
Tlie earlier races were of lower types, not be- 
cause the Creative Hand was weak, but for 
the reason that the times, that is the temper- 
ature and condition of the globe, ivere just 
fitted, in each case, for the races produced, 
and the progress of the plan of creation, cor- 
respondingly, required it. . . . Tlie develop- 
ment of the plan of creation . . . was in ac- 
cordance with the law of . . . progress from 
the simple to the complex, from comprehen- 
sive unity to multiplicity through successive 

Dana buttressed each of these two con- 
trolling ideas with a definite biological 
theory of his own construction. In at- 
tempting to explain why and how the his- 
tory of life should feature a vector of 
progress as the fundamental thrust of cre- 
ated change through time, Dana invented 
an influential notion that he named 
"cephalization," or increasing domination 
of the head. Crustaceans are segmented 
animals, and their classification does de- 
pend largely upon the form and number of 
appendages on the head segments. (In an- 
cestral arthropods, each body segment pre- 
sumably bore a pair of legs. In later evolu- 
tion, these appendages often become 
concentrated and specialized. Many paired ; 
organs of crustaceans and other inodern ' 
arthropods — antennae, mouthparts, swim- 
ming paddles, claspers used as external 
genitalia — are modified legs. Insect and 
crustacean mouthparts, especially when 
greatly magnified in TV nature specials, 
look especially weird and, to use the mod- 
ern vernacular, yucky, because we cor- 
(Plcase turn to page 88) 


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A funny thing happened on 
the way to the powwow 

By Roger L. Welsch 

I never miss the annual Omaha tribal pow- 
wow, always held the weekend before the 
August full moon. I use the occasion to 
stuff myself with fry bread and corn soup, 
talk with friends and relatives, catch up on 
tribal news, listen to good music, and 
watch stirring dances. Although I am by 
training a folklorist and anthropologist, at 
powwow time I try to avoid anything that 
smacks of professional observation. This is 
time off, and anyway, it would be a breach 
of the confidence of my Omaha friends to 
"observe" them. But it's hard to be in a 
Native American setting and stay stupid. 
Some things are too hard to ignore. 

My favorite — and most uncomfort- 
able — moments are when a clown dancer 
appears in the powwow arena. It doesn't 
happen every year. You never know when 
this fellow is going to show up, which 
probably says something about him right 
off the bat. But when he does show up, a 
roar of continuous laughter goes up from 
all the Native Americans. As always, 
laughter signals something serious, worth 
paying attention to. 

The clown dancer bursts on the scene, 
usually stumbling into the dance arena not 
through the traditional, prescribed open- 
ing to the east but from among the dancers 
and viewers seated around the arena. 
Chaos reigns as he stumbles over benches, 
audience members, lawn chairs, and 
dancers on his way into the arena. 

His dance is, er, distinctive. His sense of 
rhythm is horrid, but even worse, he 
dances counterclockwise around the cen- 
tral drum, directly against the flow of all 
the other dancers. This is not only disrup- 
tive and clumsy, it is unheard of: besides 
being bad manners, it is considered very 
bad luck for everyone in attendance. 


Among the Omaha it is very important 
that everything end with the last beat ot a 
song. I sat at the Omaha drum for many 
years learning songs, but finally gave up 
not only because the repertoire was clearly 
beyond my abihties but also because I be- 
came a nervous wreck from the fear of 
striking the drum one beat after the final 
thump, a humiliation for which my Ger- 
man upbringing had not equipped me. In 
competition, an Omaha dancer, no matter 
how skillful, is ehminated from the contest 
if he or she dances one step after the final 
note of the song. The clown dancer dances 
not just one step after the last beat of the 
song, but four, five, ten steps. He is lost in 
the music in his own head and preoccu- 
pied with checking the time on a large 
alarm clock in his hand. 

BetAveen dances he talks loudly with 
others, even while tribal elders are address- 
ing the cro\vd, a violation of tribal cour- 
tesy. Even worse, he throws his arms 
around the shoulders of visitors and tribal 
members, even women, a dreadful breach 
of ethics in a community where a woman 
trying to get through a clogged aisle will 
leave and find a male relative to tap the 
shoulder of the man obstructing her pas- 
sage rather than touch him herself. 

There is no convention or courtesy the 
clown dancer does not ignore, no taboo he 
doesn't breach. He tinds ways of offending 
others and embarrassing himself that you'd 
have to go out of your way to think up. He 
does nothing right. Nothing. 

There is no confusing the clown dancer 
with fancy dancers, jingle dancers, or tra- 
ditional dancers in the arena. He is dressed 
in an ancient, oversize, double-breasted 
suit, clearly purchased at a Goodwill or 
Salvation Army clothing store or rescued 
from the back of some closet. He is wear- 
ing a garish necktie, oxford shoes, and a 
homburg. A white linen flour sack pulled 
over his head hides his face, and on the 
sack are painted bright blue eyes and red 
hps, a startling contrast with the dark skins 

of the dancers around him. (I use the male 
pronoun, but in keeping with his hopeless 
perversity, this "man" is often, I have 
learned, a woman.) 

In his hand, instead of a staff or dance ax 
or feather fan, the clown dancer carries the 
alarm clock, attached to his waist or vest 
with a stout rope or chain. As he "dances," 
he refers again and again to his clock, 
meanwhile colliding with other dancers, 
bumping singers at the drum, and stepping 
on the feet of visitors and dancers seated 
around the arena. 

The message is clear (except maybe to 
some European American visitors): the 
clown dancer is the white man. This is me 
and my people as Native American "an- 
thropologists" see us. They are good at it 
because they have so many opportunities 
to see the white man at work and play. I 
have to travel 175 miles to visit my Omaha 
friends and relatives. 1 am on the reserva- 
tion a few times a year, a day or two at a 
time. I witness and learn Omaha ways, but 
the process is slow and incomplete. 

Omahas live constantly in contact with 
the white man's world. They can't escape 
it for long, even when they want to. They 
see mainstream American culture every 
day, every hour. They know it well 
enough to offer up a good imitation ot it. 

At community festivals — regional, eth- 
nic, historical, whatever — people project 
an image of themselves as they wish to be 
seen, as they for the moment see them- 
selves. Occasionally, as in the Omaha 
clown dancer, they also capture others as . 
they see them, providing perhaps the ulti- 
mate lesson gained in anthropology — a 
chance for the observer to be the ob- 
served. In a valley of the Omaha reserva- 
tion near the Missouri River north of the 
cir^' of Omaha, far away from my own 
home, I learn not nearly as much about 
the Omahas as I learn about myself 

Folklorist Roger L. Webch lives on a tree farm 
ill Daiinebrog, Nebraska. 

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By Neil de Grasse Tyson 

From renditions of the sun, moon, and 
planets to portrayals of galaxies and the 
distant universe, astronomical art at New 
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ways captured the most exciting science of 
the time. 

One might ask why the field of astron- 
omy, perhaps the most photogenic of the 
physical sciences, should ever allow its sub- 
ject matter to be interpreted (some would 
say contammated) by the hand of an artist? 
At the planetarium, exhibits and sky shows 
typically track the edge of scientific dis- 
covery. Since science at the edge is nearly 
always characterized by poor or insuffi- 
cient data, a scientifically literate planetar- 
ium artist plays an indispensable role. 

Useful astronomical art also provides a 
point of view in space or time that is not 
otherwise possible from Earth. In the ef- 
fort to supply such a perspective, the artist 
might knowingly distort size and distance 
to achieve a greater educational or exposi- 
tory goal or, with the introduction of 
high-speed computer graphics, manipulate 
images or give visual form to mathematical 
data. Any failure of art to convey science 
accurately is almost always traceable to the 
limits of scientific understanding that ex- 
isted at the time. The works of astronomi- 
cal art on these pages come from the 
archives of the Hayden Planetarium and 
are among the eighty paintings on display 
through December 1996. 

Neil de Grasse Tyson is an astrophysicist 
with a joint appointment at the Hayden 
Planetarium and Princeton University. 

Eclipse of the Sun by the Moon, 1902, Ehhu Vedder (1836-1923), Oil on canvas. 
Vedder's angel, apparently endowed with a knowledge of the laws of physics, knows 
exactly what the Moon needs to do to create an eclipse. The angel's sketch accurately 
shows the Moon's path through space as Earth and the Moon orbit the Sun together. 
Traced from "above" the solar system, the Moon appears to move in gentle loops that 
look Uke the petals of a flower. Note that in 1902, the year of the painting (one year 
before the Wright brothers flew their first airplane), few people had ever seen the tops 
of clouds. The artist depicted the top of a cumulus cloud as best he could, but without 
the knowledge of pufiy detail that we now take for granted. 

EUhu Vedder was a figure painter, illustrator, and poet who was noted for the unique brand of 
fantasy in his work. Eclipse of the Sun by the Moon is one of five paintings on astronomical 
subjects that he created at the turn of the century. 

Interpretations of the 


Phenomena at the limits of oi 

oops tint 
me yen 
n the tops 
It without 



AiiroM Borcalis: Saint Dawson m Mi.liii'.^lit, 1910, Leonard Davis (1864-1938) Oil on masomte. 
Painted on a cold North American arctic night — well before the development of color 
photography and before most humans had ever seen or heard of the northern lights — 
this study, one of several in a series created by Davis, is part of a veritable travelogue of 
atmospheric phenomena. The artist captures a sense of the rapidly changing patterns for 
which the northern lights, also known as the aurora boreahs, are famous. 
Leonard Davis was a landscape and atmospheric effects painter. He worked extensively in Canada, 
Alaska, and on the West Coast and bequeathed hundreds of paintings to the American Museum. 

Celestial Sphere, 1934, Paul Manship (1886-1966) 
Bronze relief on marble base. 

The sculptor depicted all eighty-eight constellations in figures 
that show the influence of art deco. The assortment includes one 
insect, five mythical-magical creatures, three boat parts, two 
crowns, a flat-topped mountain, somebody's hair, and a river. 
Constellations clearly have no scientific significance, but they are 
a useful map to locate stars and galaxies on the sky If modern-day 
Americans were to label the constellations with their own cultural 
icons, Elvis would doubtless replace Orion. 
All// Mauship's works can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 
Manhattan's Central Park, and elsewhere in New York City. 


jofoiiiderstandingbecome the stuff of artists' visions 

Universe Nat 

Mars As Seen from Irs Outer Moon Deimos, 
1930. Ho\\ard RusseU Butler 
(1856-1934). Oil on Canvas. 
In 1930, the prevailing image of Mars was 
dominated by the notions of astronomer 
Percival Lowell, perhaps best known for 
launching the search that led to the dis- 
cover\^ of Pluto. Lowell made many 
sketches of Mars, including regions of 
heavy vegetation and interconnecting 
canals — ^presumably the handiwork of Hv- 
ing, working Martians. Trusting the fa- 
mous astronomer, Butler portrayed these 
imagined features in his painting. 
Howard RusseU Butler studied physics as a 
college student and was adviser to the Museum's 
Astronomy Hall from 1925 to 1934. 

Solar System, ca. 1960, 
Hebnut Wimmer 
(b. 1925). Tempera on 
paper. Depicting the solar 
system has always posed a 
challenge to Olustrators. In 
this now-famous painting, 
the artist forfeits accuracy 
of scale to show all the 
planets. Wimmer painted 
the solar system \veU before 
space missions to the outer 
planets had taken place, so 
he knew nothing of such 
later discoveries as rings 
around Jupiter, Uranus, and 

Black Hole. 1972, 
Helmut Wimmer 
Tempera on paper. 
In one of the earHest (and possi- 
bly most famous) renderings of a 
black hole, a grid of space-time 
cur\-es down into the high-grav- 
ir\" center ot the hole. In the 
painting's bottom right-hand 
corner a bloated red giant stars 
material is being stripped off be- 
fore it spirals in toward the black 
hole s center. 

Helmut Wimmer was the resident 
artist at the Planetarium from 1954 
to 1987. His painting style influ- 
enced a generation of space artists. 




It s like having gravy 

on your tlC^ only worse, when 

Shawn Dalcour's car was sideswiped by a taxi on his 
way to pick up a client, his immediate concern was 
appearances. \bu see, Shawn's a salesman. Taking a 
prospective customer to lunch in a smashed up car just 
wouldn't cut it. Shawn ■■ called Garry Mitchell, 
his Allstate Agent, who ^E reminded him that his 
coverage provided for a MK rental car in the event 
of just such a mishap. Shawn then drove the car to 
a body shop, where he was met by someone from the 
rental car agency. Within the span of an hour, he 
was on his way to his appointment, his professional 
image not the least bit tarnished. For Shawn — 

Being in good hands is the only place to be: 

Both of Shawn Dalcour's cars are insured through Allstate Agent Garry Mitchell of Hillside. Illinois. 
Garry's the spitting image of his father, who had Shawn's business prior to his retirement. 



1996 Allstate Insurance Company, Northbrook, Illinois. Coverage is subject to policy t 

^3 6 

Human Nature 

iturai Hisiory 2/96 

Ghana recycles its heritage: Castles, kings, and vanishing forests showcase f i 

From the tower window of what was once the Dutch 
governors private bedroom in Elmina Castle, perched 
over Ghana's coast, I see children playing ball on the 
beach, brightly painted canoes, tall palm trees blowing in 
the sea breeze. But the distant ocean horizon provokes 
grim thoughts of the world beyond, which has swallowed 
Africa's treasures for the past five hundred years: first gold 
and spices, then ivory and slaves, and now the continent's 
forests, cash crops, and minerals. In another corner of the 
sunlit room, the tour guide tells us about the trapdoor on 
the floor of the balcony outside, from which stairs lead 
down to a court\'ard. Below ground is a windowless dun- 
geon, originally built to store gold and spices but later 
used as a holding pen where captives awaited the Euro- 
pean ships that would take them on the journey of no re- 
turn. The governor would have the female slaves brought 
up into the courrj-ard and then choose one, who would 
mount the stairs and enter his private quarters. 

The Portuguese started building the castle at Elmina in 
1482, soon after they began trading along the west coast of 
Africa. Columbus visited it at about this time, a decade 
before his first transatlantic voyage. Elmina was the first of 
what became a series of more than sixty European forts, 
lodges, and castles along the 300 miles of Ghana's rocky 
coastline. Rebuilt and expanded over the centuries, the 
castle was taken from the Portuguese by the Dutch in 
1637 and ceded to the EngHsh in 1872. 

The transatlantic slave trade began in earnest during 
the seventeenth century, when sugar plantations trans- 
formed the New World economy In the early years of the 
trade, most slaves came from farther south, from the 
Congo and Angola. But before long, many slaves were 
being shipped from what became known as the Gold 
Coast (primarily the coast of Ghana), with 800,000 cap- 
tives officially recorded in the eighteenth century. In 
Africa as a whole, between ten and twelve million people 
were sent to the Americas, with 20 percent of the human 
cargo dying on the way Elinina Casde is now being re- 
stored as a monument to this tragedy. 

Along with nearby Fort Saint Jago and Cape Coast 
Castle, Elmina Casde has been named a World Heritage 

By Enid Schildkrout 




H u ma n ■ 

turies of West African history. 

Site by UNESCO. The United Nations Development 
Project and the United States Agency for International 
Development are supporting an integrated development 
project that includes the restoration of such forts and cas- 
tles, the establishment of museums, the construction of 
hotels and tourist facUities, and the promotion of the 
nearby Kakum National Park, with Africa's first forest 
canopy walkway. While these enterprises are going for- 
ward in Ghana's Central region, people in other parts of 
the country are also trying to come to terms with, and 
cash in on, the rising tourist traffic. In Kumasi, the capital 
of the Ashanti Region, a new palace museum opened this 
year as part of the twenty-fifth anniversary celebration of 
Otumfiio Opoku Ware II's accession to the Golden Stool, 
that is, to the office of Asantehene, or king of Asante. 

Tourists drawn to Ghana's historical landmarks come 
with diverse preconceptions and expectations. For African 
Americans, the castles and forts are horrifyang reminders 
of their ancestors' wrenching separation from their fami- 
hes, culture, and dignity in Africa. Some of these visitors 
say that any attempt at restoring or reflirbishmg the casdes 
amounts to historical whitewashing. They feel that the 
j dank and wretched dungeons, with narrow crevices 
!r through which shackled slaves were pushed onto the ships 
» and stacked up Hke inanimate cargo, should be reverently 
kept as memorials. For them, the dungeon rooms are 
shrines to the dead, places in which to hold candle-lit ser- 
\ices and performances to commemorate a bitter history. 
No one disputes that the "slave trail," as the conglom- 
eration of tourist sites stretching from Senegal to Benin is 
called, is a memorial to the unimaginable suffering of cap- 
ture, deadly transadantic voyage, and the horrors of plan- 
tation slavery. The museum e.xhibit at Cape Coast Casde, 
tor example, developed in consultation with the Smith- 

Cest Africa, from the Vallard Atlas, ca. 1547. Drawn 'upside- 
s-own," as if viewed from Europe, the map includes a depiction 
of the trading fortress of Sao Jorge da Mina (Elmina) on what 
was then called the Gold Coast. 



Photographs by Frank Fournier 

Human Nature 

Nascra! History 2/96 

For some, the castles on the coast memorialize the horrors of the slave trade. 

sonian Institution, devotes 
considerable attention to the 
diaspora in North America. 
But for the local guides, 
other aspects of Ghanaian 
history- are also important: 
the trade in gold and spices 
before slave trading, the ar- 
chitecture ot the buildings 
and their more recent uses as 
government headquarters, 
and the Uves of inhabitants in 
the surrounding communi- 
ties. Some Ghanaians teel 
that since these are the first 
museums to attract major in- 
ternational funding, the ex- 
hibitions should showcase 
Ghanaian culture, not just a 
chapter of history- thev might 
want to forget. 

Slavers' is not a simple 
subject for Ghanaians. The 
practice was widespread in 
Africa long before the 
transadantic trade and lasted 
in some places until this cen- 
tur\f. The labor of captives 
was an important part of the 
agricultural economy and a 
b^-product of wars inherent 
in the process of state forma- 
tion. In the Americas. Euro- 
peans transformed slavery 
\\ith ne\\" kinds ot exploita- 
tion, but the Africans who remained behind were not all 
\ictims. at least not in the same way as were the slaves 
across the ocean. African chiefs and merchants collected 
rents from Europeans for centuries, and some became 
wealthy as they traded slaves and other commodities for 
guns, iron bars, and manufactured goods from Europe. 

A Sihvr lidnlee 

Everyone at the palace is nervous chat the refijrbished res- 
idence of Agyeman Prempe I and Osei Ag\'eman Prempe 
II, the predecessors of the reigning Asantehene, ^^■ill not 
be ready for its scheduled opening as a museum. The Lon- 
don-made fiberglass mannequins of these two former 
rolers and of the current king were delayed in airports and 
customs for more than a week. I see them sitting in sepa- 
rate rooms on the first floor, surrounded by mementos of 
their reigns, family photographs, and paintings. Palace 
dressers will soon adorn them with silk cloth, sandals, and 
gold jewelry. Upstairs, mannequins of two prominent 

The Portuguese began 
building Elmina Castle, 
top, in 1482. Above: 
Seated beside the 
Golden Stool, 
Asantehene Otumfuo 
Opoku Ware II marks 
the Silver Jubilee of his 
reign. Opposite page: 
An attendant's staff, 
topped by a golden 
hand holding an 
egg, symbolizes the 
ruler's care, prudence, 
and patience. 

turn-of-the-centur)- Asante 
women — Asantehemaa Yaa 
Kyaa (the Asante queen 
mother) and Yaa Asantewa 
(the queen mother of Ejisu, 
one of the Asante states) — 
also await finishing touches. 
Meanwhile, royal tamilv 
members and palace officials 
stop by to inspect the figures, 
checking to see that the hke- 
iiess of the present king is 
good enough. 

After visiting the torts 
iud castles on the coast, most 
tourists travel inland to Ku- 
masi. Ghana's second largest 
cit^; hoping to glimpse the 
reigning Asantehene, one of 
the most powerfiil of Africas 
modern-dav kings. It they 
are lucky, they arrive during 
the r\\"o-day adiie festival, the 
"washing" of the ancestral 
stools, held e\'ers' tort\"-r\\'0 
days. The rehgious part ot 
this ceremony, in which sac- 
rifices are made to the black- 
ened stools of former rulers, 
is not pubHc. but there is a 
ceremonv in which strangers 
are welcomed. Sometimes 
visitors get to meet Otum- 
fuo Opoku Ware II. a cordial 
and stately monarch who. 
before he became Asantehene. was a surveyor, lawyer, 
minister of communications, and diplomat. 

An especially elaborate adae ceremony was held this 
past August 13, because 1995 was the year of the Asante- 
hene s Silver Jubilee. On this occasion numerous chiets 
and dignitaries convened to greet the king. The Silver Ju- 
bilee celebrations included many other events, among 
them a mass in Saint C^.'prian s Anglican church, a festival 
for traditional priests, special prayers at Kumasis central 
mosque, an art exhibition, a banquet, and the opening ot 
the new palace museum. 

Having worked on the plan for the museum the pre- 
\-ious year, and ha\ing hosted the Asantehene and his en- 
tourage when he visited New York in 1984. I was one ot 
many guests imdted to attend the festi\dties. The museum 
opening was set for the day before the public adae cere- 
mony. During the final week of preparations, as I helped 
line exhibit cases and dust tinlding chandeUers, I watched 
Asante citizens and foreien \isitors bring gifb of rams. 



: ofini 

t laii» li 

111 lilp 
Jipsf tk 
e, one oi 
I'e dnriaj 
s put of 
k Mid- 
ler nilec, 
there 6 J 

rck wli«. 
It, tap 



■ Silver J»- 

ti, lIlWj 

si's centril 





jot BUB' 


man N a : 

The Golden Stool has become a symbol of the Asante nation, of the resistance:! 

cows, and cases of drinks 
into the palace grounds. 

Although Ghana has 
been a modern state since 
1957, when it became the 
first African colony to gain 
independence, the Asante- 
hene is accorded status as a 
traditional ruler. ConsoU- 
dated in the second half of 
the seventeenth centur\', the 
Asante confederacy com- 
prised a number of related 
peoples and surrounding 
groups, and at its height in 
the nineteenth centur^' its 
influence extended over 
much of what is now the 
Ghanaian interioi; as well as 
neighboring parts of Togo 
and the Ivory Coast. This 
'"kingdom of gold" derived 
much of its wealth from the 
region's rich gold deposits 
(see "The Golden Ax of As- 
ante," by Malcolm D. 
McLeod, Natural Hisiory, 
October 1984). 

The Asante confederacy,' 
remained independent until 
1896, when the Asantehene 
Agyeman Prempe I was de- 
posed and exiled by the 
British. The museum build- 
ing was originally built as a residence for the monarch 
when he returned in 1924 as a private citizen. To the As- 
ante of Kumasi, however, it was built as a palace; to them, 
the Asante confederacy may have been ecUpsed, but it 
had never died. A few years after his return the British 
recognized Ag^^eman Prempe I as Kumasihene, or chief of 
Kumasi. His successor, Osei Agx-eman Prempe II, who 
took office in 1931, presided over the official restoration 
of the Asante confederacs' in 1935. He was one of a num- 
ber ot traditional rulers who exercised local government 
functions within the British colony. 

Kumasi, the traditional capital of the Asante, is a vi- 
brant multiethnic mis with about 800,000 residents and 
rnousands of \Tsitors who come in daily from all over 
West Africa to trade in its enormous central market. An 
exphcit sign that the reigning Asantehene, like his fore- 
bears, values this cultural and rehgious diversity was evi- 
dent during the recent festivities. At a reception for tradi- 
tional priests, guardians of the spirits of Ghana's ancient 
religions, the king wore a cloth covered with Arabic wnit- 

Ivory trumpets, top, 
announce that the king 
has cleansed t/ie 
ancestral stools, 
seeking blessings from 
the ancestors. Above: 
The Golden Stool is 
carried in a procession 
at the king's Silver 
Jubilee. Below: A 
celebrant wears a stars- 
and-stripes shirt 

ing — painted incantations 
from the Koran, the many 
names of Allah, and Islamic 
magic squares. This gar- 
ment, draped in the Asante 
style over his left shoulder, 
did not resemble the tailored 
gowns embroidered with Is- 
lamic motife worn by West 
-African Muslims (for the As- 
antehene is not himself a 
Mushm), but expressed the 
longstanding relationship of 
respect, economic coopera- 
tion, and pohtical accommo- 
dation that the Asante have 
had 'with non-Asante. 

Since at least the eight- 
eenth century, a Muslim 
conm-iunit\- has been an im- 
portant part of Kumasi's reli- 
gious and economic life. Its 
leader formerlv served as the 
kings doctor and adviser, 
while the imam, or prayer 
leader, assisted at court and 
ser\'ed as palace scribe. The 
.Asantehene sdH has an imam 
among his palace officials 
and many Asante people are 
-Muslims. Kumasi is a com- 
plex mix, however, and not 
all Muslims are Asante: be- 
tween the palace and the 
market, there is an area called the zongo, or "strangers' 
quarter." where manv non-Asante Muslims live. These 
people are Hausas, Mossis, Yorubas, Dagombas, Wangaras, 
and others, some of whose ancestors came to Kumasi with 
trans-Saharan caravans bringing catde, cloth, salt, and 
even slaves to trade for gold, kola nuts, arms, and other 
products from the forest and the Adantic coast. When the 
Asantehene makes a pubhc appearance, as he did during 
the Silver Jubilee, the songo communin,; along with Fante, 
Ewe. Ga. and other people from southern Ghana, as well 
as visitors from Europe and America, come in large num- 
bers to pay their respects. 

The gracious English colonial house that has been 
converted into a museum is just one building in Manh\-ia 
Palace, a complex of residences, ceremonial halls, and ot- 
hces. The fiimishings are as they were in 1970, when the 
present Asantehene biult a new residence next door. 
Draperies, silver tea sets, and European fijrniture dating 
from the 1920s to the 1950s fill the lower rooms. Exhibit 
cases have been installed upstafrs to display royal regaba. 



onial imperialism, and of the persistence of chieftaincy in Ghana today. 

Two thousand VIPs were 
invited to the museum's 
opening ceremony, held out- 
doors on the lawn. The 
Ghana symphony orchestra 
played, and speeches were 
made about Ghana's rich 
heritage and the value of 
having a museum in which 
to display it. Artifacts from 
the secret stores in the palace 
treasury — golden sandals, 
royal boxes, swords, bells, 
and drums — were placed in 
the museum cases during the 
official opening ceremonies. 
But once the Asantehene and 
a select group of guests had 
toured the building, the ob- 
jects were removed, most to 
be used in the Asantehene's 
procession the next day. The 
palace treasurers entrusted 
with the safekeeping of the 
regalia were not about to re- 
linquish them for permanent 
display; replicas have been 
commissioned for that pur- 
pose. The most important 
object in the treasury, the 
Golden Stool, would never 
be displayed in a museum be- 
cause it is so special. 

African American tour- 
ists say that a visit to the Ashanti Region is about "recon- 
ciliation," about healing wounds and revisiting ancestral 
roots, about the continuity of the African spirit in the di- 
aspora. Asante admit, even if they rarely discuss it, that the 
greatness of their kingdom cannot be explained without 
acknowledging the slave trade, because the power of the 
kingship included the power to wage war, seize and sell 
captives, and execute criminals. But there are many stories 
that explain the origin of any civilization, and for the As- 
ante the most miportant story is not that of slavery but the 
story of the Golden Stool. 

Tradition has it that the Golden Stool came from the sky 
in 1701, when the Asante of Kumasi defeated some of their 
neighbors and consoUdated the formerly separate polities 
under their king, Osei Tutu. A legendaiy priest, Akomfo 
Anotche, had announced to Osei Tutu that he was com- 
missioned by God to summon a stool from heaven that 
would contani the spirit of the nation. Following a crucial 
victory, a thunderous black cloud appeared, from which the 
priest drew down a wooden stool covered in repousse sheet 

A curator at La Maison 
des Esclaves on 
Senegal's Guree Island, 
above, tells museum 
visitors how rebellious 
West African captives 
were tortured during 
the slave trade. Below: 
A view from a dungeon 
in Elmina Castle. 


gold. The stool rested on 
Osei Tutu's knees and was 
never to touch the earth, nor 
was it to be sat upon, not 
even by an Asante king. If the 
Golden Stool was ever cap- 
tured, the priest proclaimed, 
the nation would perish. 

The Asante remained 
powerful long after Euro- 
peans first estabhshed a colo- 
nial presence on the Gold 
Coast. Only after the aboli- 
tion of the slave trade did 
Europeans attempt to con- 
trol the interior. New sup- 
plies of minerals and timber, 
and eventually cash crops, 
such as cotton, cocoa, and 
rubber — as well as African 
markets for European-made 
goods — were needed to fiiel 
the growing industrial econ- 
omy of Europe. To Euro- 
peans of the time, commerce 
and Christianity went to- 
gether and were both the 
basis of civUization and the 
excuse for colonization. 

( ^ T ^wiH: wwwwwww '" Ghana, the British ob- 

' 'lfW^MS'\l^^^ tamed control over the coast 
by entering into a treaty 
with the Asante in 1831, but 
for the economy to really 
develop they had to venture inland. In 1874 they marched 
against the Asante and burned the capital, Kumasi. But 
they met with formidable opposition because the Asante 
possessed arms and ammunition that had been supplied to 
them throughout the slave-trading period, including sur- 
plus from the Napoleonic wars. The British entered the 
capital again in 1896. Although the Asante did not oppose 
them, believing a treaty had been assured, the British cap- 
tured the king, Ag\'eman Prempe I, imprisoned him at 
Elmina, and then exiled him to the Seychelles Islands. 

Because it represented so much to the Asante, the 
Golden Stool was the one object the British colonial ad- 
ministration especially coveted. In 1900, in a fatuous dis- 
play of arrogance and ignorance, the British go\-ernor, 
Hodgson, demanded that the Asante hand over the 
Golden Stool so that he could sit on it. just as Queen Vic- 
toria sat on the throne of England. This insult prompted 
the Asante to attack, even with their Asantehene in exile. 
They were led by Yaa Asantewa, the queen mother of 
Ejisu. After a year-long battle, with about 1,000 dead on 

PI^H u m an. _,N a t u r e 

Muslim communities add to the rich ethnic mix in Kumasi, the Asante capital. 

the Asante side and 700 on 
the British side, Yaa Asan- 
tewa and about fifteen other 
military' leaders were cap- 
tured and sent to join the As- 
antehene in exile. 

Once the Asante terri- 
tory was declared a British 
possession, the Golden Stool 
was buried for safekeeping. It 
resurfaced in 1921, when it 
was accidentally uncovered 
by some workers who were 
building a new road. Thieves 
then stole the stool and 
stripped off some of its gold. 
When the scandal became 
public, many Asante dormed 
mourning cloth. The culprits 
were tried, fined, and con- 
demned to death by the As- 
ante chiefe (the British gov- 
ernor subsequently com- 
muted the death sentence to 
banishment). Soon after this 
incident, the Asante were al- 
lowed to restore their na- 
tional symbol and, eventu- 
ally, the monarchy itself. 
Surrounded by m\th and his- 
tory, the Golden Stool has 
become not only a symbol of 
the Asante nation but also a 
svTnbol of resistance to colo- 
niahsm and of the persistence of chieftaincy in Ghana. 

After relations benveen the Asante and the British im- 
proved in the 1920s, the Asante offered a silver stool to a 
member of the British royal family. Princess Mary, Vis- 
countess Lascelles, on the occasion of her wedding. It was 
not, of course, an ancestral stool — many stools are not — 
but it was a significant souvenir, given the Asante 's refiisal 
to relinquish the Golden Stool two decades earUer. 

AH important officeholders in the Asante confederacy^ 
had stools, which when they died were used in the wash- 
ing of the corpse and then blackened with a mixture of 
soot, raw egg, and sheep blood and fat. Libations and sac- 
rifices to these stools summon the ancestors and insure the 
well-being of the living. The Asantehene is responsible for 
making offerings to the ancestral stools of the royal lineage 
and the Golden Stool. 

The public part of the adae ceremony usually takes 
place in a palace courrsard, but because so many people 
were imdted for the Silver Jubilee, the event was moved to 
the football stadium. Tickets were issued, and the seating 

TTie Asantehene wears 
a cloth covered with 
painted incantations in 
Arabic from the Koran. 
Muslims have had a 
special place in Asante 
society since 
at least the seventeenth 
century. Opposite page: 
A young woman 
studies the Koran 
in one ofKumasi's 
many Arabic schools. 

arrangements were meticu- 
lous. The president of 
Ghana, Fit. Lt. J.J. Rawl- 
mgs, arrived by hmousine 
and was seated in the middle 
of one long side of the sta- 
dium, opposite the Asante- 
hene. Sections were assigned 
to the Asantehene's fanuly, 
foreign ambassadors, digni- 
taries from other African 
countries, and government 
officials. All of the Asante 
chiefs, fi'om those who oc- 
cupied stools within the 
palace, to those who ruled 
over distant towns ^\^thin the 
Ashanti Region, alreadv 
knew where to sit according 
to their rank, without refer- 
ring to the seating chart. 
Even the Asante cominunit\- 
trom the United States had a 
designated area. 

Drums and the soimds of 
Ivors- trumpets announced 
the arrival of the Asantehene 
and his large entourage. 
Borne on a palanquin and 
sheltered beneath large state 
umbreOas, the king entered 
the stadiimi to the cheen of 
perhaps 100,000 people. 
Carried on a special chair 
beneath its own umbrella, the Golden Stool made a rare 
public appearance, perhaps the last this mill ennium 

TTie Endangered Forest 

Suspended on a swa\ing walkway that is attached to the 
treetops by cables, I peer dovsTi through the fohage for a 
glimpse of the forest floor. The height of the canopy is less 
firightening than it might be because I cannot see the 
ground. The forest is layered with three levels of trees, the 
tallest of which reaches 200 feet, towering above a dense 
layer of shrubs. This does not conform to my image of a 
"real" forest, tall trees shading out the undergrowth. But 
in Ghana, all of that forest is already gone. Even the guide- 
book says that the only tall trees lefi: are those that "have 
Uttle economic value" — at least for everything but 
tourism. Our guide is wonderfiil: he encourages titmd 
tourists as they make their way, one by one, along the 
swaging walkways, and he talks about the medicinal prop- 
erties of the plants. '"That one," he says "is called DoUy 
Parton. It is used to enhance a woman's breasts." Other 




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Timber, cocoa, and the new trend for ecotourism help fuel Ghana's economy. 

plants are used tor healing 
wounds, encouraging lacta- 
tion, easing muscle strains, 
curing stomach ailments, re- 
ducing fevers, and fighting 

If the Golden Stool rep- 
resents one aspect of Ghana's 
rich cultural heritage, the re- 
cently erected canopy walk- 
way in the Kakum National 
Park celebrates part of 
Ghana's natural heritage — 
the tropical, semideciduous 
forest that once covered 
more than half of the coun- 
try. The 400-foot suspended 
walkway consists of seven 
bridges between 150-foot- 
high aerial platforms. From 
the walkway one sees butter- 
flies and birds, lush fohage. 
and at the edge of the forest, 
cultivated fields. 

Only a half-hour drive 
from Elmina, the canopy 
walkway helps make the rain 
forest an attractive addition 
to the itinerary of visitors 
following the so-called slave 
trail. Since April 1995, when 
the walkway opened, atten- 
dance has steadily increased. 
Twent)' thousand visitors are 
expected in 1996 — not only foreigners but also Ghana- 
ians, including school groups. Many local people have yet 
to figure out exactly who the tourists are or how to make 
the most of their presence. Some people describe tourists 
as "Portuguese," although the Portuguese haven't been a 
presence in Ghana for centuries. And a visitor from Eu- 
rope or America, whether black or white, is referred to as 
bniiii, HteraUy "white person." 

Kakum National Park, along with adjacent Assin At- 
tandaso Resource Reserve, which together total 140 
square miles, was a managed forest in British colonial 
times, used for selective logging. Unlike most of Ghana's 
forest, Kakum was spared total destruction (although it 
was not untouched) and was finally designated a preserve 
in 1 99 1 . Now that it is a national park, endangered forest 
elephants ha\^e been brought in. So far, there are about 
250, and the local people do not think much of them. 

Local villagers also resent the loss of their hunting 
grounds, their supply of raffia and other fibers, and most 
important, their medicinal herbs. Ghanaians who hve near 

Above: A forest canopy 
walkway, Africa's first, 
draws tourists to 
Kakum National Park. 
Opposite page: At the 
Kumasi market, a 
man sells herbs and 
forest plants, which 
Ghanaians prize 
as medicines. 

Kakum formerly had access 
to these resources, from 
which they derived signifi- 
cant, although small, in- 
comes. They could get per- 
mits from the forestry 
department to hunt duiker 
and other species of antelope, 
forest pigs, large guinea-pig- 
hke rodents called grass cut- 
ters, pangohns, porcupines, 
flying squirrels, and mon- 
keys. They har\'ested mush- 
rooms, oil palm fruits, and 
valuable plant medicines that 
are still used by priests and 
traditional healers. (As re- 
search into the healing prop- 
erties of the remaining forest 
plants creeps slowly along 
with little funding, people 
who turn to Western medi- 
cine often unknowingly buy 
counterfeit prescription 
drugs from Asia.) 

The canopy walkway of- 
fers a reminder of what 
Ghana has lost during the 
most recent phase in its eco- 
nomic history, when the for- 
est was sacrificed in the name 
of an export cash economy 
based on timber and cocoa. 
Ironically, cocoa has not 
fared well, owing to periodic diseases of the crop and fluc- 
tuations of the market price. Timber exports, in contrast, 
continue to soar. Not only is there a huge legal industry 
but there is also illegal harvesting. I read on the back page 
of the Glhviaian Times, August 11, 1995, that fort\'-two 
trucks, each carrying three illegally cut giant trees, were 
seized in one day. 

People did use and cut the forest as agriculture spread 
during the past thousand years, but with lower population 
densities and the traditional practice of sliifting cultivation, 
regeneration w-as possible. Tall trees were rarely cut. and 
hunting grounds and sacred gro\'es were spared. The for- 
est had deep meaning for many Ghanaians, \\-ho beUeved 
that spirits inhabited trees, streams, and rocky outcrops. 
Not only did these beUefs pro\ade spiritual guidance to 
people who hved around the forest but they also once 
helped to protect this fragile resource. 

When the forests are cut down and burned for inten- 
sive agriculture or placed off hmits in parks, this heritage 
is lost. Nowadays one has to read the observations of Capt. 


f ^,'5*" 


Natural History 2/96 

Recycling the debris of the industrial world is big business throughout Africa, 

R. S. Rattray, an anthropo- 
logically trained colonial ad- 
ministrator, to learn about 
how a wood carver would 
sacrifice an egg or a chicken 
to the soul of a particular 
tree before he could cut it 
down to carve a stool. 
Today's carvers have trouble 
finding the woods they need. 

Industry and Ingenuity 
Alongside the road in 
Suame, a northern suburb of 
Kumasi that I've been visit- 
I ing since the 1960s, I see old 
cars, refrigerators, radiators, 
and rubber tires. Ghana is 
part of the industrial world, 
and many of the country's 
most creative artisans aren't 
working with "natural" re- 
sources. In a sprawling space 
of more than eighty acres — 
named Suame Magazine be- 
cause it was once the site of a 
gun and ammunition store- 
house — some 40,000 peo- 
ple, mostly men, take apart 
industrial debris and use it to 
create and repair useful 
products, including cars and 
trucks, corn-grinding ma- 
chines, spare parts, axes and 
hoes, concrete mixers, safes, keys, animal traps, iron gates, 
conga drums, children's swing sets, and kerosene lamps. 
One workshop owner, Baba Mohammed, tells me that 
officials from the World Bank and the International Mon- 
etary Fund have been to Suame Magazine and have given 
significant help to Ghana, "but the loans don't get down 
to the people who need them. Actually we don't want 
money," he continues. "If we could just get credit in the 
form of materials, that would help." Among other things, 
the Suame Magazine producers make giant flat-bed trail- 
ers, bigger and cheaper than any that could be purchased 
from abroad, which are used to transport both legally and 
illegally harvested timber. Just as European guns were used 
to capture African people, today the junk of the Western 
world is used to make these huge trucks that remove the 
African trees. 

Many of the workers in Suame Magazine are from the 
north, from the same places that formerly supplied slaves 
and then cocoa laborers. Today they work for long hours 
just to get by, side by side with people from the Ashanti 

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tet;-.. , .: . :: ''^"^^aiii^MHi^!.' 

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Old car bodies and 
rubber tires are used as 
raw material for all 
kinds of products, from 
rakes and shoes to 
trucks that carry logs 
from Ghana's few 
remaining forests to 
the lumber mills. 

Region and other parts of 
Ghana. They are united by 
their complementary skills 
and by a certain amount of 
bitterness about how hard 
they work for so litrie. They 
value the technical assistance 
they get from Kumasi's Uni- 
versity of Science and Tech- 
nology but wish for loans 
and credit from banks and 
government agencies. 

This is Africa's "infor- 
mal" economy at its most 
creative and determined, 
with people recycling the 
vast amounts of industrial 
trash — including cars, trucks, 
refrigerators, and broken, 
obsolete machinery — that, 
along with tons of clothes, 
outdated medicines, and sur- 
plus foods, is dumped on 
Africa and the rest of the 
third world. (Some of this 
material is gathered abroad in 
the name of charity, but ulti- 
mately all is paid for with 
scarce foreign exchange.) In 
addition to the people em- 
ployed in Suame Magazine, 
thousands of others work in 
the Kumasi central market, 
recycling, in assembly-lme 
fashion, sandals and buckets from old tires, jewelry from 
old bottles and plastics, key chains from film canisters, tin 
trunks and cooking pots from scrap metal, and usable 
clothes from old castaways. Tourists who come to buy the 
whimsical toys and ingenious suitcases made from soda 
cans and discarded copper telephone wire rarely norice 
the timber-devouring trailers made from old scrap c;u:s. 

Just as the recycling of industrial waste is filled with 
ironies and contradictions, so is the recychng of Ghana's 
heritage. When foreign visitors come looking for memo- 
rials and fantasy landscapes, they find that the forts and 
castles that once funneled human beings onto slave ships 
tell the story of the African diaspora but neglect much of 
Ghanaian history The forest canopy w.ilkway serves eco- 
tourism and perhaps encourages em'ironmental preserva- 
tion, but conflicts with the day-to-day needs of the local 
farmers and the interests of timber exporters. Yet the mag- 
nificent regalia of the Asantehene, symbolizing Ghana's 
glorious golden age, is still too vital to the ritual of mod- 
ern kingship to place in a museum. □ 



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By Karl J. Nikias 

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When plants evolved woody tissue, they rose to ever greater heights. 

The Crystal Palace, designed in 1850 by the English ar- 
chitect Joseph Paxton to house showpieces of Victorian 
technology, was 1,848 feet long and 408 feet wide. It sup- 
ported 293,655 panes ot glass, and over the 140 days of its 
original use, it sheltered 6,063,986 people, or roughly 
one-third the total population of the United Kingdom at 
the time. In his diary, the historian and statesman Thomas 
Babington Macaulay called the Cr^'stal Palace "a most 
gorgeous site; vast; graceful; beyond the dreams of the 
Arabian romances." A detail that Macaulay failed to re- 
mark upon was that the great dome, or transept, of the 
Crystal Palace was framed in wood painted to look Hke 
steel merely to allay public fear that so vast and important 
an edifice could be held aloft by so "flimsy" a material as 
wood. Yet in relation to its density, wood is stiffer and 
stronger, both in bending and twisting, than concrete, cast 
iron, aluminum alloy, or steel. 

Plant-building materials are impressive. Cellulose, in 
its ability to withstand tension, is stiffer and stronger than 
nylon, silk, chitm, collagen, tendon, or bone. Yet, cellu- 
lose, the main component ot plant cell walls, is less than 
one-fourth the density of any of these natural and syn- 
thetic materials. For these reasons, the wooden transept of 

the Crystal Palace was far safer than even Paxton may liave 

Like many savvy architects before and after his time, 
Paxton was well aware of a simple yet elegant design 
canon, discovered by plants miUions of years ago — the 
principle of minimum weight. Because even,' material 
used to stiffen or support a structure also adds to the total 
load the structure must bear, adding height unavoidably 
means trading off between a material's strength and its 
weight. The principle of minimum weight goes a long 
way toward explaining why Earth's tallest and most mas- 
sive organisms are trees. (Even the largest Uving animal, 
the blue whale, rarely exceeds 1 1 feet in length and 1 80 
tons in weight, while CaUfornia's behemoth General 
Sherman sequoia is more than 270 feet high and is esti- 
mated to weigh at least 2,500 tons.) 

In building the Crystal Palace transept, Joseph Paxton 
undoubtedly eschewed steel in favor of wood not only be- 
cause wood is proportionately stiffer tor its weight but also 
because it was one-seventieth the cost of the best available 
steel in his day — a point doubdess appreciated by Queen 
Victoria and many of her penurious subjects. In fact, trees 
themselves are miserlv in their use of resources for growth. 

Strength of 

That trees can 
reach the size 
of the General 
opposite, is 
due in part to 
the remarl<able 
properties of 

Support system 

Wood frames 
bore the 
weight of the 
glass panes in 
the transept of 
Crystal Palace. 

m e c n a n i c s" 

By drawing on the free and virtually unlimited energ\' of 
the sun. trees, like all plants, synthesize their cell walls 
from carbon dioxide and water, two raw materials that are 
simultaneously abundant and inexpensive to garner. In 
contrast, nitrogen, which plants must unlock from other 
compounds, comes at a greater metaboUc cost because its 
absorption employ's special proteins in membranes. Nitro- 
gen is therefore reserved for constructing the hving proto- 
plasts of cells. Importantly, "cheap building materials" 
does not mean "short-Uved structures." The Crystal 
Palace, dismanded for conmiercial reasons within the year 
of its construction, was mechanically robust and poten- 
tially long-hved. (The building was later reconstructed 
and stood until it was destroyed bv fire in 1936.) By the 
same token, if left undisturbed, trees will stand for many 
decades after their death. 

Given the remarkable properties of wood, it should 
come as no surprise that the abUity to manufacture this tis- 
sue has evolved independendy manv times in the long his- 
tory of plant life. The Anthophyta (the flowering plants, 
including hardwood trees such as oaks and maples) and the 
Coniferophyta (including cone-bearing, evergreen gym- 
nosperms) are two w-hoUy different lineages, each derived 
from a different, and now extinct, ancestor. 

What we call trees — woody, tall, central-stemmed 
plants — evolved in both groups, but their different ances- 
tr\' is e\ident in their wood anatomies. Oak wood, for ex- 
ample, has long, cylindrical vessels; pine lacks them. A 
vessel consists of a series of tubular cell walls, stacked end 
to end. The walls between the adjoining cells are digested 
by the Hving cells before they die. When fiiUy formed and 
dead, each vessel essentially acts as an extremely long cap- 
illary tube through which water can flow freely from one 
cell to the ne.xt along the length of the stem. Although 
composed ot single cells, usuaUv thought of as extremely 
small in diameter, the vessels of oak wood are broad 
enough to be seen with the naked eye. 

Pine W'Ood, in contrast, conducts water through tra- 
cheids, spindle-shaped, thick-walled cells that, like vessel 
cells, die at maturirv'. However, the tracheid wall is perfo- 
rated with numerous htde holes through which water can 
percolate from one cell to another. 

Oak and pine are alike, however, in the way they pro- 
duce wood. All the wood inside a flowering or cone-bear- 
ing tree is derived from a single layer of actively di\iding 
cells called the vascular cambium. These cells, know n as 
initials, di\ide to produce new cells on the inside and out- 
side ot the layer. The cells produced on the inside develop 

Convergent evolution of wood and other stiff tissues 

Oak and Pine 


Vascular cambium 
(wood-creating tissue) 
Primaiy xylem 
(woodiike ^ 

' Leaf case 

Flowering trees 
and conifers 
evolved from two 
different plant 
lineages, but 
both produce 
wood in a similar 

Wood, the main constituent of pine and oak trunks, 
emanates from the inside of the vascular cambium, a 
single layer of actively dividing cells. 

with a fossil 
record dating 
back 250 million 
years, cycads 
have multiple, 
vascular cambia. 

Cycad's produce small quantities of loose-textured 
wood. The rather weak stems must be structurally 
reinforced by an external armor of leaf bases. 

Tree ccafuEio.i, An cs»j' on Adapraiion (Unh'eisily oi Cnicago Prsss. in prBss). Tree sections by hSanin Heggland. after K. NiKlas 

nto wood; those on the outside become the phloem, the 

iap-conducting tissue of plants. 

Subtle differences in anatomy also show that wood 
;volved in yet another way in the cycads, an extremely an- 
cient group ot gymnosperms with a fossil record datmg as 
far back as 250 iTdllion years ago. Cycads bear their seeds 
on leaves held aloft on largely unbranched stems that pro- 
duce Hmited amounts of a very "loose-textured" wood. 
Indeed, most of the bulk of a cycad stem is composed of 
living, thin-walled cells very much like those found in a 
raw potato. The rather weak stems of cycads must be 

tructurally reinforced by an external armor of leaf bases. 
Unlike pines and oaks, cycads do not have a single, wood- 
producing cambium layer. Multiple, concentrically ar- 
ranged vascular cambia each produce a limited amount of 
soft wood. When seen in cross section, the resultant stem 
anatomy looks very much Uke that of a beet, which also 
has multiple tissue-producing cells. Although most living 
cycads are fairly short in stature, some species reach 
iheights rivaling the tallest oaks and pines. In this group are 
the Cuban cycad, Microcycas cahcoma, which can be more 
iithan twenty-five feet tall, and Mactozamia hopei, a native of 
Queensland, Australia, which can reach fifty-five feet. 
Present-day plants represent only the tip of a complex 


An extinct, 
treelike plant 
known from 
Period fossils, 
grew more than 
120 feet tall. 

A vascular cambium produced a high proportion of 
1 wood in the Lepidodendron stem, but a layer of bark 
also helped support the tree. 

evolutionary iceberg submerged in an ocean of geological 
time. The fossil record shows, for instance, that the ances- 
tors of today's horsetails and lycopods also "invented" 
wood and built huge trees out of this material. Todays re- 
maining horsetail plants — all in the single genus Eqnise- 
luiii — lack wood; but during the Carboniferous Period, 
the horsetail Calainltcs reached heights in excess of eighty 
feet. Its contemporary, the treehke lycopod Lepidodendron, 
elevated its canopy of branches and spore-bearing leaves at 
least 114 feet above ground by virtue of a woody trunk. 
One of the curious features shared by both types of extinct 
tree was a vascular cambium that produced substantial 
amounts of wood in stems, but that did not produce new 
phloem cells. 

Cahmites looked much hke the living horsetails. 
Those who have seen the latter in wet meadows and along 
roadsides know that they send out horizontal, ground- 
hugging, rootlike stems that can be scores of yards m 
length. One can only wonder at the lengths of the huge 
rhizomes that anchored Calamites to the ground. (Inter- 
connected by these subterranean roots, hundreds of 
Calamites trees actually made up single organisms, possibly 
the largest living things in Earth's history!) Sadly, Lepido- 
dendron has no analogue among the living lycopods. All in 


An extinct woody 
tree related to 
the present-day, 
horsetail plant, 
reached 80 feet 
in height. 


Huge, below-ground rhizomes connected the multiple 
stems of Calamites plants and provided them with 
additional anchorage. 

the group are extinct, but they have left their mark. Their 
bark is the major constituent of the Carboniferous coal 
deposits that faded Victorian, as well as modem, industry'. 
attesting to their once great number and geographic 

If we are ^ Hllin g to relax the stipulation that "trees" 
must have woody stems, we can add to the number of 
plant groups that have evolved the tree-growth habit — 
sending up an extremely taU stem, or trunk. True. wx)od is 
the stiffest tissue known (in relation to its densit\') but 
other plant tissues are nearly as efficacious in pro\iding 
mechanical support w^hile conferring minimal weight. 
One such tissue is called sclerench\Tna, which typically 
consists of thick-walled, dead cells. Unlike wood, how- 
ever, sclerenchyma develops directly from cells produced 
by the growing tips of plant stems and roots, not from the 
cambia. Still, sclerenchjina, w'hich is found in pakn trees 
(as well as the outermost skin of onions), is almost as stiff 
and light as wood. 

Some plants use li\Tng and dead organs to mechani- 
cally support stems. These devices enable arborescent 
palms such as Irianea and tree ferns such as Cyathea, which 
lack wood, to reach heights of sevent}' feet. The "trunks" 
of palms are held aloft by means of numerous girdling 

strands of vascular tissue whose sclerench^tnatous cell 
walls get thicker and stiffer as they grow older. In pahns, 
reinforcement is also provided by clasping leaf bases at the 
top of a stem that is anchored at its base by a profijsion of 
ver\? stiff, adventitious toots. In tree ferns, "trunks" are 
supported by a mande of wiry, external, adventitious 
roots, sometimes teachir^ nearly to the canopy ot the tree. 
This support "strategy" has evolved more than once 
among the ferns, a group of nonseed plants that procreate 
xiz spores and trace their immediate evolurionarv" origins 
to various ancestors. 

Clearly there are many ways to "build a tree," but all 
share the same frmdamental tactic: deploying the stiffest 
and hghtest available plant materials near the outside of 
vertical stems. The mechanical fijrces generated within a 
vertical stem as it bends under its own w^eigjit, or as it 
twists in the wind, are most intense just beneath the stems 
surface. Thus, placing the strongest and stiffest available 
materials around or under the svtrfaces of \^rtical stems is 
ideal fair dealing with the dfoaimc mechanical forces trees 
typically experience during their lifetimes. In the final 
anah^is, the sa\ing "all roads lead to Rome" is as true for 
plant evolution, w-hich has taken different but convergent 
roads to building a tree, as it is for daily human afiairs. D 

Tree Fern 

Treelike plants 
of the tropics 
and subtropics, 
the ferns date 
from the 
Jurassic Period 
to the present. 


Tree ferns lack wood fajt are propped up by an external, 
coneiike mantle of wiry adventitious roots. Some tree 
ferns can reach a height of seventy feet. 


Palms are 
held aloft by 
girdling strands 
of vascular 
tissue running 
just beneath 
the stem. 

Because of the external roots at their bases and 
clasping leaf bases at the top of the stem, palms are 
stiff enough to stand, yet flexible enough to sviiay. 



Scientists and engineers refine their designs based on structures found in nature. 

Engineers refined an or- 
tliopedic bone screw by 
analyzing the distribution 
of stresses along the 
screw shaft. Graphs (cen- 
ter) chart the intensity of 
the stress. Color com- 
puter images (bottom) 
contrast the stress on 
the unreinforced screw 
(left) and on an 
improved model that 
was reinforced based 
on the way trees repair 
themselves. Red indi- 
cates areas most 
vulnerable to fatigue. 
Yellow and green mark 
areas of less stress. 

Orthopaedic bone screw 

V. MIses stresses along contour s 




non-opllmlied -~j\ 


// optimized ft 

■J L- 

= , 


V. Miscs-slrcss distribution 

Trees produce "reaction 
wood" to cope with 
areas of high stress. The 
"reaction wood" grows 

around obstacles and 
acts to distribute the 
stress in a uniform way. 

a t u r a 1 1 y 

< By Delta Willis 

In the early 1980s, Claus Mattheck was in a car accident 
that left him with a shattered left leg. Doctors secured the 
broken bones with stainless steel nails, but Mattheck, a 
physicist who works in fracture mechanics, knew that in 
the past such nails occasionally had broken, as had some 
screws used for spinal implants. To find a way to make 
stronger screws and nails, he turned to a computer pro- 
gram that he and his colleague Andreas Baumgartner, at 
the Karlsruhe Research Center in Germany, had de- 
signed. The program came out of their work in bio- 
mimetics, a growing interdisciplinary field that brings to- 
gether biologists, engineers, physicists, architects, and 
other specialists to study how human technology can be 
improved by copying designs from nature. 

Drawing blueprints firom nature is not new: two thou- 
sand years ago the Chinese tried to manufacture artificial 
silk. The Greeks used sea urchins as models for an element 
of their Doric columns. In the fifteenth century, Leonardo 
da Vinci designed ships' huUs based on the movement of 
fish in water and flying machines patterned on birds in 
flight. But modern technology, including the scanning 
electron microscope, allows detailed explorations of things 
that Leonardo could not see. 

Trees, with their remarkable combination of strength 


and flexibility, are models of excellent design. D'Arcy 
J^^ Thompson, the Scottish biologist who penned the 1917 
classic Oil Givii'tli and Fonii, noted 

Since the weight of a fruit increases as tiie cube of its linear 
dimensions, while the strength of the stalk inaeases as the 
square, it follows that the stalk must needs grow out of 
apparent due proportion to the fruit: or, altcniatipel)'. that taU 
trees should not bear large fruit on slender branches, and that 
melons and pumpkins must lie on tlie ground. . . . In the 
tree, moreover, anchoring roots form powerful wind-struts, 
and are most developed opposite to the direction of the 
prevailing winds; for the lifetime of a tree is affected by the 
frequency of storms, and its strength is related to the wind- 
pressure which it must needs withstand. 

The whole design of a tree limb employs the yin and 
yang of good engineering — tension and compression, or 
pull and push. This aUovvs sapUngs to become vertical 
again after being buried by snow. (When wind blows on a 
tree, the windward side of the tree is in tension and the 
leeward side is in compression.) In broadleaved trees, the 
upper side of a limb normally grows faster than the lower 
side, and the cells on the upper side shrink longitudinally. 
When a branch bends under a load of snow, the cells on 

Claus Mattheck, 

of the Karlsruhe 
Research Center in 
Germany, takes long 
walks in the woods 
to study the "body 
language" of trees. 




"Trees are smart," says Claus Mattheck. "They use the strongest wood vi 

The fractal patterns 
of branching trees 
and tidal channels 
are also found in 
the fine connections 
of our nerve cells 
and vascular sys- 
tems. These den- 

dritic networks are 
being studied 
by biomimeticists 
for principles of 
efficient flow. 

Buttress fCHTnafxxi in roots ofi^ tatefaty anchored 

- "Wv 


Natural buttresses 
on trees act like 
ropes stabilizing 
tent poles. Charting 
stresses on such 
structures, engi- 
neers refine artifi- 
cial supports. Col- 

ored images, bot- 
tom, show how 
stress (red) is mini- 
mized in the classic I 
buttress (right) and 
maximized In an un- 
reinforced laterally 
anchored column. 

the tree limb's upper side shrink to allow^ for recovery. 
Grass employs the same method of recover^' when tram- 
pled. As James E. Gordon — retired professor of materials 
science at the University- of Reading in England and a fa- 
ther of modem biomimetics — ii\TX)te, "Almost invariably, 
li\Tng things are so successftd in sohong . . . structural 
problems that we do not notice how" they do it. For noth- 
ing attracts less curiosity than total success." 

While botanists tend to appreciate the arrangement of 
parts, biomimeticists focus on successtiil patterns in na- 
ture. One result is the fashionable regard for the branching 
pattern knovsTi as firactals — the bifiircation and repetition 
that occurs in trees, tributaries, and our own lungs. What 
w-orks in one place can w'ork in another. 

Nobod\- knows bener than Claus Mattheck the ad- 
vances in design that have been made possible by bio- 
mimetics. He learned that trees grow in way^ that mini- 
mize stress and that tend to distribute stress uniformly. 
Mattheck takes long walks in the woods in search of trees 
that are crooked, uprooted, or bent out of shape. One that 
was more or less in the shape of a question mark first 
sparked his interest in the "body language'' of trees. 

Mattheck and Baumgaitner de\Tsed a computer-aided 
optimization program (CAO) that allows users to improve 

all sorts of designs based on the way trees and bones repai 
themselves — remo\ing the "unloaded," or unnecessar\ 
parts fix)m blueprints and reinforcing areas vnlnerable tc 
fracture. It has been used to improve artificial joints, elec 
trie razors, automobile parts, washing machines, rubbe 
bearings, and chain links. Mattheck made one tiny addi 
tion to the base of spinal screw threads to mimic the \vx 
a tree limb is reinforced at the trunk. The program alsc 
pinpointed where w"aste could be trimmed from th< 
screws, which when modified were Ughter and more re- 
sistant to fatigue. 

Everv- tree is shaped by the loads it must carr\-. Hov 
trees manage those loads is a quesrion that continues tc 
tease scientists, as much as it did the shipwrights of ok 
who searched for the perfect ship's mast. Part of a tree ■ 
abilit\- to adapt to its loads hes in the cambium, the growth 
layer that makes new cells just beneath the bark. The cam- 
bium can actually sense areas of stress — i wound, for ex- 
ample — and then produce more wood at that point, untl 
the stress is relie\^d. Mattheck's CAO program works ir 
the same way to show where the weak points on blue- 
prints should be buttressed. 

Nearly 90 percent of wood cells are arranged in a hon- 
ej'comb partem. This pattern occurs repeatedly in nature 

^^""^j'lighest internal stresses are and optimize their external shape." 

, show how 
oiceil bleu 

Nature produces 
composite materials 
that, like wood, are 
light, flexible, and 
strong. Above: The 
use of synthetic com- 
posites gave the de- 
signers of a sled for 
the United States 
team in the 1988 
Winter Olympics more 
options in shaping 
the sled and distrib- 
uting its weight. 
Below, right: Some 
biomimeticists are 
developing "smart" 

materials with em- 
bedded sensors 
that will be able to 
detect changes in the 
environment and 
react, even changing 
shape if necessary. 
Layered aircraft 
"skin" incorporates 
sensors responsive to 
temperature, strain, 
and battle damage. 

laclis, niU 




11 i 

aidboneiitp Jmd results in lightweight strength. Few materials are as 
or ramecBii ough as cellulose, the main constituent of wood, whose 
itrength derives from its abihty to store energy Hke a 
'pring. Lorna Gibson, a professor of engineering at Mass- 
ichusetts Institute of Technology, emphasizes that wood's 
'ery combination of composite and cellular microstruc- 
I mimic tilt I ures gives it its mechanical efficiency: 


Wood's exceptional performance in bending reflects the fact 
that the trunk and branches of a tree are often loaded in 
bending: the trunk by the wind and the branches by their 
own weight. It arises from the honeycomb-like structure of 
the wood cells as well as the great stiffness and strength of the 
cellulose fibers. 

James Gordon pointed out that "cellulose cannot be 
considered as either weak or brittle yet it is chemically a 

\ffliiiid.fe'' f'^S^r, being made by stringing glucose molecules to- 
ijtnoiiiii'' '^ether." He considered cellulose to be "a tensile material 
j^wi)' without peer." 

jjljonlbji While Mattheck has been investigating wood, other 

f.icientists have been working on different materials. For 

jjjafe he past decade the United States Air Force Office of Sci- 

|,,jiiiiii6i|!5ntific Research has been working on the application of 

Above: Ceramic composites 
are key to developing the Na- 
tional Aerospace Plane, which 
could reach speeds of 9,000 
miles per hour. 

biomimetics to aerospace materials, studying, for example, 
how the strong, tough, and lightweight structural proper- 
ties of insect exoskeletons and abalone shells could be 
copied in composite materials. 

Composite materials that mimic natural materials have 
been used for Olympic bobsleds and high-performance 
skis. Kevlar, a descendant of nylon whose molecular struc- 
ture is like that of silk, is used in buDet-proof vests. A 
strong but light, energy-efficient composite of graphite 
fibers in epoxy was used in the I oyrt^er airplane that circled 
the globe in 1986 without refuehng. 

The possibilities seem endless in trees alone. They in- 
fluence life more than any other plant, replenish the air we 
breathe, and supply food and pharmaceutical wealth. Even 
dead wood finds utility', providing resonance for a viohn 
sonata, polished grain and burl of incontestable beaut\', 
and the paper on which these words are printed. 

Glaus Mattheck says, "Trees are smart structures. They 
grow wood in a load-adapted way; they use the strongest 
wood where the highest internal stresses are. They also 
optimize their external shape." Today, as they delve into 
the natural world for efficient form and function, scientists 
and engineers look upon trees with growing regard, and 
are returning to the woods for more ideas. D 

i m e c h a n m: s 

When the bough bends 


A January thaw is not always a wel- ^ 
come event in Maine, where I spend f 
the winter. If the thaw is accompa- | 
med by rain, the woods and roads are | 
soon covered by sheets of ice, and | 
people lie low. We wait for the rain to 
turn back into snow, as it generously 
does. The storm on January 22, 1995, 
was by no means as bad as it gets, but 
I found it particularly annoying. Dur- 
ing the night, freezing rain had col- 
lected in thick, icy encrustations on 
the wire screening of my research 
aviary, which collapsed under the 
weight. In the morning, ice hung like 
crystal from all the trees — a pretty 
sight, except that several limbs ot my 
favorite white birch next to the cabin 
were danghng limply, having snapped 
from their loads of ice. Six-inch-thick 
gray birch trees were bent over dou- 
ble, their tops touching the ground. 

But perhaps more surprising, 
most of my trees remained intact. 
Unlike my aviary, a temporary con- 
struction of wood and wire, the forest 
still stood. As I surveyed the icy trees, 
I began to see them as examples of 
superior design shaped by evolution; 
any inferior tree models have long 
since been obHterated from this land- 
scape by the climate. 

Still, some trees do occasionally sustain damage. The 
conditions of this ice storm were just severe enough to 
show up the weaker parts in tree design and to highhght 
the strengths. I recalled one ice storm about ten years ear- 
her that had left the ground in the mature hardwood 
forests a huge tangle of broken limbs. Gray birches had 
been broken or had their tips bent all the way to the 
ground. The white birches, with stronger trunks, had had 
great limbs torn oft. But I couldn't remember ever seeing 
a limb ot a tir or a spruce tree shorn oS^ and moreover, 
those trees always remain erect. Near my cabin in this lat- 
est storm, only the white and gray birches were atfected; red and sugar maples, American ashes, beeches, and 
•■, .■lov,' birches — all fairly young trees — seemed not to 
have been damaged at all. 

Several days later, when i wandered in a relatively ma- 
ture forest nearby at Perry Hill, I discovered much more 
destruction. Many mature, seed-bearing oak trees, 
beeches, maples, white birches, and thick-trunked yellow 
birches had toppled over, and the ground was Httered with 
fresh branches. The thick hmbs of large pines had also 
snapped off. So, while most of the trees were clearly 



A balsam fir stands up 

to the elements. 

Conical shape and 

tiers of flexible limbs, 

which act like folding 

umbrellas, help firs 

and other coniferous 

trees bear up under 

loads of ice and snow. 

By Bernd Heinrich 

"working" just fine in this particuj 
storm, the gray birches near my cal 
and the mature hardwoods at Pe; 
HiU reminded me that I should 
take design for granted. 

I wondered what principles were;: 
work here. The first of many variab; 
was the amount of ice the limbs hi 
collected. A look out the window su- 
gested that the birches had collectei 
lot more ice than the other hardwoO' 
so I set out to see if this was the c; 
With bush cutters, I carefully snippi 
off five three- to four-foot-lo 
branches of five difierent species 
young hardwood trees, includi 
white birch. Careful not to knock ■ 
any ice, I weighed all twenty-five ic 
laden branches with a spring balance 
the kind fishermen use to weigh thi| 
catch — then spread them all out on t| 
floor of the cabin. By late afternoi 
the ice had melted, the cabin floor 
awash, and I weighed them again. 

As I had suspected, the bir. 
branches collected much more i 
than did the branches of the other tr 
species, dramatically so. On averag 
birch branches weighed eight tim 
more with their ice load than witho 
it. American ash had the lowest ratio 
ice weight to branch weight, whs 
sugar maple, red maple, and apple twigs had an mterm 
diate ratio. 

Ash trees have the fewest nvigs, which may explain, 
part, why they collect the least ice. White birches, whii 
collect more ice, have bushier and more numerous twi^. 
Moreover, when birch twigs are partly ice-laden, th' 
tend to droop outward, away from the stem of the tt6 
Surface tension holds water droplets on the tAvigs long?' 
and the slow flow down the twig allows a thm fJm of i' 
to form. In contrast, the relatively stiff, horizontal twii; 
of for example, apple trees generally hold little ice. Tl 
water simply drips oft. 

The overall architecture of the tree is also importai 
Ash, maple, and poplar trees (especially younger ones) a 
shaped roughly hke candelabra, and this largely vertio 
arrangement of twigs has two effects with respect to iC' 
First, the more a twig points straight up, the less surface 
presents to falling rain, and the less water it can intercep 
This can be seen in the straight, upward-pointing twigs • 
the American ash. Second, any water that the branches c 
intercept runs inward toward the trunk (rather than ou 
ward as on the gray birch) and freezes where it can do tl 


The aftermath of an ice storm highlights 

^PHt iist harm. The trunks of most young 

iples. ashes, and poplars were thickly 

ated with ice. Possibly this ice even 

■Iped stiffen, rather than weaken, 

sm, as it would if it were collected on 
^pteiiBe outside of branches (as in gray 
■"yw rch). In this particular ice storm, none 
the candelabrum-shaped trees 

owed any sign of being burdened by 
(oIh ice load, nor did they accumulate 

iuch snow later on. This may also help 

:plain why mature trees with large 

reading crowns suffer torn limbs more 

iten than do thinner, but more 

)inted, young trees. 
Shedding leaves serves a variety of 

notions, such as enabling a tree to 

nserve water. But this deciduous 

bit can also be seen as something of 
ad hoc solution that allows a maple 
birch to survive Maine winters. 

round-hugging shrubs of the far 

orth, such as Labrador tea, bog rosemary, and winter- 
ij]iii.J|reen, keep their leaves all winter, proving that winter and 




: specii 






I out 01 


the liiilaves are not always incompatible, but tall temperate- 
motei )ne trees need a line of defense against ice and snow. Last 
oiheti iinter in New York City, for instance, ice and snow 
apped the limbs of ornamental hoUy trees, native to 
.ore southerly regions, that had broad, evergreen leaves. 
.e two northern native hollies found in Maine — winter- 
;rry and mountain hoUy — shed their leaves and re- 
tained undamaged. 

The conifers are marvels of arboreal compromise, 
/hile most retain their leaves — needles — in winter, these 
•nd to be erect, stiff, and spiky, and collect less ice than 
D broad leaves. (Balsam fir, with needles that point out 
terally from the twig in a rough sheet, is an exception.) 
his dual capacity of conifers to retain their leaves and still 
led ice and snow may be due to their overall shape and 
rength of Umb. 
.; I An inveterate tree climber since my childhood, I feel 
j,jin(.||iJalified to comment on the strength of tree hmbs. Neo- 
,.( Jfhytes who have cHmbed with me to the top of a 100-foot 
'd spruce have watched aghast as I've hung by one hand 
om, or jumped up and down on, a slender, inch-thick 
\e spruce limb. Jumping on a white pine limb of the 
"lie thickness would be dangerous. But this northern 
me sheds a proportion of its leaves in the fall, and what it 
icks in limb strength, it usually makes up in limb thick- 
ess. The limbs of tamarack (larch) are brittle and down- 
■ ight treacherous. I have no doubt that if tamarack limbs 
ould accumulate as much ice and snow as spruce and fir 
nibs do, they would regularly be stripped off the tree. Of 
ourse, they almost never are; tamarack is the only north- 

Sturm und Drang 

The weight of ice and 
snow that collects on 
the twigs and slender 

branches of birches 
often bends the trees 

groundward, top. 
Deciduous trees avoid 

even greater loading 
by shedding their 

leaves before winter. 

Adapted to northern 
climates, conifers keep 

their leaves in the 
modified form of short, 

spiky needles, which 

collect less ice than 

would broad leaves. 

the architecture of trees. 

ern conifer that is fully deciduous. It 
sheds its needles in winter. 

The main feature that protects 
spruce and fir, and to some extent 
pine, is the very feature that we cher- 
ish in them as Christmas trees: their 
conical shape. Each spring, the trees 
sprout a single, straight shoot from the 
top; at the same time, a whorl of three 
to sLx branches grows off horizontally, 
and already existing lower branches 
stretch even farther to the sides. These 
umbrellahke tiers of branches, each 
slighter larger than the one above it, 
correspond to the age of the tree. 

Conifers do coDect snow and ice. 
and the flow of water is indeed out- 
ward, not inward as in the young can- 
delabrum-shaped hardwoods. Here a 
new design kicks in and rescues the 
tree: because they are both highly 
flexible and tough, the horizontal 
branches don't break, they bend. As the Umbs begin to 
hang, they support their immense burden not because they 
are holding it literally up in the air (as one might hold a 
bag of cement over one's head) but because they are 
merely being pulled. That is, they support their load by 
tensile strength. The "end loading" of the conifer branches 
is therefore not a liabihty but an asset. When encumbered 
by ice and snow, the upper whorls of branches press down 
and are supported by the lower branches, until a stable 
cone, or tepeelike structure, is produced. 

Pushed inward against the trunk with their weight on 
the ends, conifer boughs act like a collapsing umbrella; 
they intercept less precipitation. (In spruces, the same 
principle is applied on a small scale to the individual 
branches.) This is a most desirable trait for a tree in Maine. 
The more load the trees takes on, the more snow shdes off, 
just as it shdes off my steep cabin roof or off a tepee. All in 
all, the conifer design is totally opposite that of, say, an ash. 
But both work superbly. 

The poet Robert Frost was no stranger to the beauties 
of the forest or of New England winters. This winter, 
when I take measure of my trees. I'll recall his poem 

When I see birches bend to kft iiiid right 
Across the Hues of straigliter darker trees, 
I hkc to think some boy's been swinging them. 
Bui Sit'i}igi}ig doesn't bend them down to stay 
As ice storms do. . . . they are bowed 
So hir for long, they neivr right tlicmsehes: 
Yon may see their trunks arching in the woods 
years afteni'ard. . . . 



>• u 

1 1. .. 


U n c m m 

g r a t i 

nique among mammals, northern elephant seals make two migrations a year. 

fi bull northern elephant seal, looking lean 
Ifter the rigors of the breeding season, 
tlives in a keip forest off southern 
California. After breeding, the seals head 
Jiorth to offshore foraging grounds. During 
:heir months at sea, they are subnnerged 
about 90 percent of the time, surfacing to 
Dreathe briefly between long, deep dives. 

In April and May, thousands of 
juvenile and adult female 
elephant seals come ashore on 
the sandy beaches of San 
Miguel, one of southern 
California's Channel Islands. 
After molting, the seals head 
out to sea for their second 
migration of the year. A few 
weeks later, the beaches are 
packed again, this time with 
molting bulls. 

Every December, northern elephant seals begin appearing 
with surprising suddenness on sandy island beaches off 
southern California and Mexico's Baja peninsula. The 
males arrive first and compete for dominance. The fe- 
males show up a little later and soon give birth to young 
conceived the year before. Three weeks later, they are 
ready to mate again. 

By late January, the coastlines of San Miguel, San 
Nicolas, Santa Rosa, and some of the other islands seem to 
strain more against the sheer weight of elephant seals than 
against the fierce Pacific storm surf. Last winter, I esti- 
mated that nearly 35,000 seals, including pups (totaling 
some 35 to 40 million pounds), were piled onto the 
beaches of San Miguel Island, one of southern California's 
Channel Islands. 

By early March, the seals are gone, disappearing like 
the giant burrowing sand worms on science fiction writer 
Frank Herbert's dune planet of Arrakis. The females are 
the first to leave, abruptly abandoning their pups. They 
are followed by the adult males and then, about a month 
later, by the pups. 

In spring and summer, the seals return, this time for 
their annual molt. Adult females come back in April and 
May, the males in July and August. (Many pups remain at 
sea until the following spring.) After a month, the seals re- 
peat their vanishing act. Slipping into the water and out ot 
sight, they leave behind nothing but patches of sloughed 
skin and hair as proof ot their visit. 

Where they go and what they do between these well- 
documented visits has been unknown. Roger Hill and 
Robert DeLong and I decided to develop a computer- 
controlled recording instrument that would reveal the be- 
havior and whereabouts of the seals the entire rime they 
were not basking on the beaches. 

DeLong and George Antonelis, of the U. S. National 
Marine Fisheries Service; Gerald Koovman, from the 




By Brent S. Stewart 

It m m u t e r s 



'aiiural' Hist;Of y ; 2/:9'6v 

; i| 

Northern elephant seals spend eight to ten months a year at sea, hiill 

Scripps Institution of Oceanography; and Burney Le 
Boeuf, Dan Costa, and students from the University of 
CaHfornia at Santa Cruz, had estabhshed that elephant 
seals dive deep — to 2,000 feet or a litde over sixty times 
surface atmospheric pressure. Roger armored our instru- 
ments to withstand pressures more than twice that level. 
Our first efforts revealed that the seals regularly dive 
deeper than 2,500 feet, and one buU went to 5,150 feet. 
Our recordings indicated that the seals began diving as 
soon as they returned to the sea. They dived continuously, 
for twenty to forty minutes at a time, seldom taking more 
than three minute breaks at the surface to breathe. Over 
four months, each seal made about 7,000 dives and was 
submerged about 90 percent of the time. 

For ideas on how to track the seals, we turned to the 
work of Nathaniel Bowditch, an eighteenth-century 
wmnderkind. His passion and genius for mathematics and 
astronomy facilitated, in part, the ocean supremacy of 
Yankee seamen during the clipper ship era by providing a 
relatively simple and reUable method of nautical naviga- 
tion. The development of that method no doubt also has- 
tened the destruction of the world's seal herds by helping 
sealers return reliably and quickly to remote island rook- 
eries each year. 

In Bowditch's time, navigation at sea was done pri- 

marily by a combination of dead reckoning and para 1 
sailing. Bowditch's contributions included correcti; 
more than 8,000 errors in the standard navigational texti 
use at the time. He also derived tables and formulas : 
computing longitude and latitude that could be used |f 
just about anyone. 

Bowditch's work helped navigators determine whi.; 
they were and how to get where they wanted to go. O,: 
challenge was different: once the seals returned to t; 
beach, we had to figure out where they had been. Tow;l 
that end, Roger made further changes in the recording i- 
struments, adding temperature and Ught sensors, the lat ■ 
to measure sunhght intensity whenever a seal was at V. 
surface. With the information from the light sensor, •" 
could estimate time of sunset, sunrise, and noon, as weUi 
day length. Our hope was that this information, in coi- 
bination with tables Bowditch developed of the timing ' 
celestial events, would enable us to pinpoint the se£ 

Near the end of the 1989 breeding season. Bob D- 
Long and I headed to San Miguel Island with the moc- 
fied instruments and federal permits to attach them ■ 
eight adult males. (My previous studies had shown tl: 
adults were more Ukely to survive and return than juv- 
niles.) After gingerly making our way among the wary ^• 

Male elephant seals 
engage in fierce, 
often bloody fights 
to estabish 
dominance and thus 
determine which 
bulls have access to 
females. Although 
sexually mature by 
age five, most males 
won't breed for 
several more years, 
by which time they 
may weigh some 
3,500 pounds. 


*t n beaches only to give birth, nurse their young, mate, and molt. 

Its, we selected our eight, sedated them, and glued the 
istruments to the sparse hairs on their back. Within a day 
!" two, the seals had departed. 

Our anxious hopes to see at least one of the bulls again 
1 summer turned to elation when not one but six reap- 
L-ared in July, five with usable diving and light-level data. 
he data showed that the seals had not dawdled: all five 
■id begun traveling north as soon as they entered the 
.Iter. Covering about sixty nautical miles a day and trav- 
ling alone, each arrived about forty-five days later at a 
liferent spot in the northern Gulf of Alaska or in waters 
I ear the Aleutian Islands. After thirty-five days, they 
eaded back to San Miguel to molt. 

Since 1989, we have momtored the movements of 
lore than 100 adult males and females. We have found 
lat these seals make not one, but two migrations a year 
etween the Channel Islands and distant, offshore forag- 
ig areas. No other vertebrate is known to undertake such 
double migration. 

The first migration starts at the end of the breeding 
--ason. Departing in early to mid-February, females travel 
) the North Pacific, some 2,000 miles off the coast of 
Vashington State, before returning home to molt. The 
jund trip covers about 4,000 nautical miles and lasts an 
verage of seventy-three days. The males' journey, begin- 

ning in late February to early March, takes them about 
1,700 miles north of the females. By the time the males 
return to San Miguel to molt, they have been away some 
120 days and have traveled at least 7,400 miles. (Weaned 
pups leave for their first trip in March and April, but as yet 
we know little about their travels.) 

After about a month on the beach fasting and molting, 
the seals embark on the second migration. Females swim 
off by the end of May and travel north to approximately 
the same areas they visited in the spring. This time, the fe- 
males remain at sea for about 234 days and cover at least 
7,600 nautical miles before returning to San Miguel to 
give birth and mate again. The males' postmolt migration 
begins in late August and early September and takes them 
6,000 to 7,000 nautical miles m about 126 days. 

Elephant seals are not the only mammals to accumu- 
late such impressive mileage: some gray whales may swim 
more than 10,000 miles during their annual migration 
from the breeding lagoons in Baja to foraging areas in the 
Bering Sea. But the total distances that northern elephant 
seals cover in their double migrations — nearly 12,000 
miles for the females, and more than 13,000 for the 
males — place them near the top of any list of long-dis- 
tance mammalian travelers. (Birds, of course, are the 
world's champion migrators; arctic terns may cover 



Bull elephant seals 
may be one and a 
half times as long 
and seven times as 
heavy as an adult 
female. Here, a 
large male mates 
with a female as she 
is nudged by her 
nearly weaned pup, 
conceived the year 
before. The female 
will leave the 
breeding beach just 
a few days after 
mating, abruptly 
abandoning her pup. 
Below: A bull opens 
his mouth in a 
subdued threat, 
perhaps directed at 
a young male 

- ,*-^,-- 





M i g r a t i 

Their lengthy double migrations place northern elephant seals nea 

15,000 miles a year in their round-trip journey betsveen 
antarctic pack ice and arctic breeding grounds.) 

Our data suggest that individuals adhere to roughly 
the same routes and destinations in successive migrations, 
but migratory paths vary from seal to seal. Males and fe- 
males share a migratory corridor along the coasts of Cali- 
fornia and Oregon, but because the males migrate much 
farther north and at different times, the sexes are essen- 
tially segregated during their travels. 

Why do the seals engage in such lengthy migrations? 
Our best answer at this point is that they go in search ot 
productive foraging grounds. The seals must certainly be 
hungr\' bv the rime they go to sea. While ashore, the seals 
fast, losing 40 percent of their body mass. 

The seals' main prey are pelagic, deep-water squid. 
Manv of the ocean currents through which the seals mi- 
grate, as well as the water masses bordering the currents, 
are rich in nutrients and are important foraging areas for 
other marme mammals and seabirds. However, we have 
yet to learn very much about what lives in the midwaters 
where the elephant seals forage, although trawls and sub- 
mersibles have turned up a variet)' of squid and biolumi- 
nescent fish. 

We also know frustratingly Httle about how elephant 
seals navigate during their migrations. Orientation by the 

'^ \ 









earth's magnetic fields is perhaps the most plausible set 
nario. As yet, however, no sensory mechanism for mat 
neric-field detection has been contirmed in any verte 
brate, so we can go htde beyond just-so stories. ' 

Scientists might lose some sleep pondering these que: 
tions, but the elephant seals Ukely won't. Diving and m 
gration records collected so far have given no evidence i 
sleeping seals, although just what might constitute sleep i 
this species is also uncertain. Recent studies suggest th^ 
behavioral and electrophysiological aspects of sleep ca 
become disassociated. For example, one type of sleep h; 
been recorded in birds that appear awake to observers. I 
some dolphins and seals, deep sleep occurs in one hemi 
sphere of the brain at a time. In terrestrial mammals, slee 
time seems to correlate inversely to body mass — cow- 
horses, elephants, and giraffes sleep only a few hours a da^ 
If that relationship holds true for marine mammals, the 
elephant seals may not need much sleep and may get \\ h; 
they require in periodic catnaps. 

However they na\dgate, with or without sleep, thei 
far-ranging, deep-diving habits may have helped the ele 
phant seals survive intensive harvesting in the nineteeni 
centurv. Today, the seals' population is burgeoning, a wel 
come, and all too rare, occasion for optimism at a tim 
when manv large mammals are in decline. 


iS|Vt^Jygiv,i- 1W;W 130= W > 120' W 110° W 

Tr.i four maps at right show the routes 
of northern elephant seals that migrate 
between San Miguel Island and the 
eastern North Pacific. Every year the 
seals undertake two round trips, the 
first after the winter breeding season; 
the second several months later, after 
molting. Males and females are largely 
segregated during the migrations. 

Female migration, postmolt (June-January) 

f any list of long distance travelers. 

Top light: A titaiiiiiin tube holds iLioidmg iu\tiHincuts designed to 
track seals at sea. After weigliiiig a seal, researchers glue the tube 
onto its back, top left. Identifying letters and numbers are also 
bleached onto the animal's side. 

To the Brink and Back 

Seal bones in midden heaps 
(trash dumps) left behind by 
the Chumash Indians — who 
hunted seals on San Miguel 
and San Nicolas Islands — pro- 
vide evidence that northern 
elephant seals have been re- 
turning to the beaches of 
southern Cahfornia's Channel 
Islands for at least 12,000 years. 
One hundred years ago, how- 
ever, these ancient patterns 
were in peril. At that time, 
sealers, sea otter hunters, and 
whalers had hunted elephant 
seals close to extinction. 

Science took a toll, too. Sci- 
entists knew Httle about ele- 
phant seals, and as C. H. 
Townsend (sent in 1 892 by the 
U. S. National Museum to col- 
lect any he could find) said, 

killing the seals for science was 
viewed "as the only alternative to 
their slaughter by sealers." By 
1900, the species was down to 
perhaps one hundred animals. 

Fortunately for the seals, the 
scientific appetite for specimens 
lessened, and in 1922 Mexico 
banned the kiUing of elephant 
seals on their last known 
refuge — Isla de Guadalupe, about 
120 nautical miles off Baja CaU- 
fornia. The seals responded well 
to that eleventh-hour protection. 
Within a couple of decades, they 
were colonizing islands in the 
waters off southern California. 
The recovery continues: On San 
Miguel Island, for example, seal 
numbers have been increasing 10 
to 14 percent every year for the 
past five decades. Today, the spe- 
cies stands strong at about 
150,000 animals.— B. 5. S. 

la migration, postmolt (August-December; 

At the end of the two-month 
breeding season, bulls are exhausted. 
Fighting for the right to mate is 
stressful. In addition, males eat 
nothing while they are on shore. They 
may lose nearly half their body mass 
before the time comes to slip back 
into the sea and dive for squid. 







•-v, ,#i 



Carlos Martinez dej Rio 

Gary Braasch 


Groves of colum- 
nar cactus grace 
the sunny north 
slopes of Fray 
Jorge National 
Park in Chile. 
Adapted to the 
desert and armed 
with spines, the 
cactuses are still 
prey to an Insidi- 
ous plant parasite 
that can turn the 
groves into cactus 
: graveyards. 




Alien garland 

Despite its bristly 
defense, an 
Echinopsis cactus i 
prey to tlie quintral 
a mistletoe that 
parasitizes columna 
cactuses. The 
flourish of red 
flowers belongs not 
to the cactus but to 
the quintral, which 
feeds on the fleshy 
inner tissues of its 
host. During the 
austral winter, tiny, 
leafless quintral 
branches emerge 
from within the 
cactus's skin and 
put forth the 
attractive blossoms. 

Fruits of success 

Each quintral fruit 
contains a single seed 
able to germinate in 
arid conditions. Lured 
by the juicy berries, 
Chilean mockingbirds, 
ortencas, become the 
agents of seed dispersal. 


a 1990, 1 took a short trip to a beautiful little national 
■ark in northern Chile called Fray Jorge. The park's 
iventy thousand acres encompass expanses of seniiarid 
crub, fog-dependent elfin forests that straddle the coastal 
lills, and steep slopes covered by tall, columnar cactuses. 

aving grown up in northern Mexico, I was quite famil- 
ir with cactuses and was struck by a peculiar feature of 
hose in Fray Jorge. Many of them were covered by masses 
f blossoms — not the few pale-but-showy flowers typical 
f columnar cactuses but numerous red, tubular blooms 
inlike any cactus flowers 1 had ever seen. Rodrigo Medel, 

Chilean ecologist who accompanied me to Fray Jorge, 
old me that the red blossoms belonged to a mistletoe 
ailed Tiisterix apliylliis, also known as quintral. 

Mistletoes are parasites that depend to varying degrees 
»n the resources of a host plant for survival; quintral has 
peciaUzed in parasitizing cactuses. The quintral blossoms 

saw were growing from short, apparently leafless 
(ranches that protruded directly from the cactus columns. 



Quintral's next generation In the aftermath of a qumtral berry 
meal, a tenca plants a seed. Passing intact through the bird's 
digestive tract and voided atop a cactus, the seed will often stick 
to a cactus spine. Even while dangling in such an inhospitable 
environment, the seed will germinate immediately. 

A quick investigation showed that these branches were 
only a tiny part of the plant. Unlike most mistletoes, 
which live primarily outside their tree hosts, quintral has a 
large ginger-root-like structure that grows inside succu- 
lent cactus stems. Chilean mockingbirds, boisterous song- 
birds known locally as tencas, were avidly eating the pale 
pink, chickpea-sized quintral fruit. 

When I returned to university life back in the United 
States, I found myself thinking about the interplay of the 
cactus, the quintral, and the birds, so I decided to go back 
to Chile to conduct a more formal study. I have found the 
life of the parasite to be satisfyingly complex: Although it 
damages its host, and frequently leaves dead branches and 
sometimes even bare, white cactus skeletons in its wake, 
quintral is an important source of food for birds. 

During the austral winter, when few other flowers are 
in bloom, a species of hummingbird known descriptively 
as the green-backed firecrown depends on the nectar pro- 
duced by quintral flowers. (The columnar cactuses do not 




Ec OS ' 

1 li 

Sweet resource 

A green-backed 
firecrown feeds on the 
nectar of quintral 
flowers. Far from being 
deterred by cactus 
spines, these death- 
defying hummingbirds 
dart and weave among 
the bristles to sip from 
hard-to-reach blooms 
and use their strong 
feet to grasp and perch 
on spines. Quintral is 
one of the few sources 
of nectar during the 
austral winter. Staking 
out miniature feeding 
territories among the 
red, tubular flowers, the 
firecrowns occasionally 
pollinate the quintral 
in the process. 

start to flower until the austral spring, about October, after 
the quintral has finished producing fruit.) Heavily para- 
sitized stands of cactus ring with the high-pitched war 
calls of firecrowns as the birds raid the quintral flowers and 
fight for feeding territories. The sheer numbers of fire- 
crowns and their intense fluttering thwarted our early at- 
tempts to determine how quintral flowers are pollinated. 
For pollination experiments, we needed "virgin" flowers, 
whose stigmas had not yet received pollen. My colleague 
Arturo Silva spent an enormous amount of time finding 
and marking flowers that were about to open and then 
rncnitoring them frequently, so he could hand-pollinate 
them as soon as they were ready. If he became even mo- 
mentarily distracted, hummingbirds would beat him to 
the flowers, even to blooms surrounded by extremely long 
and sharp cactus spines. 

After a quintral flower is pollinated, its petals drop and 
a globose red berry containing a single seed develops. As 
the berries ripen, they turn from a solid red to a pale. 

translucent pink. Austral blackbirds, common in Chi; 
congregate in noisy gangs on cactuses laden with quint) 
fruit. They pluck a berry, nressily mash the peel, suck til 
sweet juice, then drop the seed to the ground, leavinal 
jumble of peel parts and seeds at the base of the cactus|r 
Because quintral seeds are soft and delicate, mashing ' 
blackbirds often damages them. 

Tencas are more dependent on quintral fruit than ; 
the larcenous blackbirds. After swallowing the fru| 
whole, they defecate intact, viable seeds. We carried oi 
our investigations of quintral seed dispersal with relatij 
ease: tencas are large and fairly easy to mark and obsenfj 
the seeds are large and easy to spot, and their suitable gdl 
mination sites are columnar cactuses, an evident feature i 
the desert landscape. We concluded that tencas are the scj 
dispersers of quintral seeds. From the cactus's point 
view, however, tencas are disease vectors. By depositil 
the seeds on or near cactuses, the birds are transmitting 
infection — the parasitic quintral — from plant to plant. 

The presence of cactus spines can demand acrobalj 
antics from avid fruit eaters such as tencas. Those that lai| 
on a spine or a short quintral branch have to maintain 
precarious balance while plucking ripe fruit. These ml 
neuvers require much wing flapping and the use of the tJ 
as a prop. The spines seems to exact a toU in plumage wd 
and tear. Lenny Cannes, a graduate student at Princetq 
University who has studied these mockingbirds, has fouti 
that the feathers of captured quintral-feeding tencas 
unusually worn and ragged. 

Tencas defend territories singly, in pairs and, mol 
rarely, in trios. In these territories, they broadcast a mi| 
tare of whistles, warbles, cackles, and snippets of oth] 
birds' songs from their favorite perches — tall, heavil 
quintral-infected or dead cactuses. Under these percha 
we often found tangled masses of germinating quinti| 
seeds. Tencas avoid perching on cactuses that are health 
spiny, and lacking quintral fruit. Infected cactuses are pri 
ferred not only because they have berries but also becaul 
their branches are less spiny or even dead. A consequent 
of the perching preferences ot tencas is that new infectioa 
are rare and reinfections are common. 

A seed deposited on a cactus by a tenca is usually sul 
pended from a cactus spine or lodged m the midst of 
clump of spines. There it is subjected to desiccating dese 
winds and to temperatures that range from freezing 
night to 100° F in the day. Despite these rugged cond 
tions, most seeds thus deposited germinate immediatell 
(Indeed, they can germinate in conrplete darkness as wa 
as complete dryness, as we discovered when we inadvel 
tently left seeds in our jeep's glove compartment for a fe| 
weeks.) Like the seeds of many other misdetoe specie 
quintral seeds are coated with a mucilaginous substana 
that allows them to cling tenaciously to fingers, mstri.| 
nients, and clothes, as well as to cactus spines. 

tiUtl!, I 

olili; ! 


5 of 

Mistletoes are varied and wide- 
spread plants. The quintral of 
the Chilean desert, which para- | 
sitizes cactuses, and the dwarf | 
mistletoes of North America, | 
. which live on conifers, draw al- | 
most all of their nutrients from | 
their hosts. In contrast, the ma- | 
jority of mistletoes are shrubby 
green plants that tap into the 
host tree or shrub for water and 
( minerals but use their own 
; leaves to photosynthesize most 
other nutrients. 

No matter the habitat, 
mistletoes parasitize and can 
harm their hosts, but they form 
close associations with local 
bird species. These birds often 
pollinate the flowers of the 
misdetoe and disperse the seeds 
after feeding on the fruits. The 
mistletoe's tendency to sprout 
from bird droppings may well 
have given this plant its name; 
Anglo-Saxon misteltan is a com- 
pound of mistel, meaning 
"dung," and tan, or "twig." As a 
rule, foresters and orchard 
keepers abhor mistletoes, 
whereas bird lovers appreciate 
them as a rich avian resource. 

Ancient Associations 

ie peitl 
ig fit 

Represeiitatwih of matletoe leaves frame the upper poitwii of stylized 
human heads on a fifth-century B.C. Cehk stone pillar. 

Mistletoe has long played a role 
in Roman, Celtic, and Ger- 
manic mythology. Druids are 
said to have worshiped in groves 
and to have invested mistletoe 
with supernatural powers, par- 
ticularly if it grew on their most 
sacred of trees, the oak. James 
Frazer, in The Golden Bough, his 
classic volume on myth and 
magic, equates the Golden 
Bough of mythology with 
mistletoe, noting "the rich 
golden yellow ... a bough of 
misdetoe assumes when it has 
been cut and kept for some 
months; the bright tint is not 
confined to the leaves, but 
spreads to the stalks as well, so 
that the whole branch appears 
to be indeed a Golden Bough." 
In The White Goddess, British 
writer Robert Graves remarks 
that mistletoe, considered by 
the church as pagan and forbid- 
den as church decoration, was 
associated by the ancient Celts 
with midwinter: "the exchange 
of kisses forbidden at all other 
seasons is still permitted under 
its bough, if it has berries on 
it."— C. M. d. R. aiidf R. 

The only nonsticky part of a germinating seed is a 

itepi brotruding knob called a radicle. This structure sprouts a 
Isdljea, |hick thread that grows one or two millimeters a day After 
few weeks of such growth, the radicle thread weaves its 
>vay through a maze of spines. Only a few of the seedUngs 
iucceed in reaching the outer skin of the cactus and caus- 
jj„Xj jng an infection. The quintral seeds' extremely long radi- 
al d Jes are unusual among mistietoes and may have evolved in 
^jii^js lesponse to the long spines of the cactus host. Most 
nistletoe seeds are deposited directly on tree branches and 
jj^tj, liave no need to negotiate a labyrmth of spines. Two other 
'jijiili Chilean species of Tristerix mistletoes parasitize trees and 
^,1 -.hrubs rather than cactuses and have radicles much shorter 
^han those of their desert cousin. 

Once the tip of the radicle makes contact with the 
epidermis of a host, it swells and forms a suckerlike struc- 
.ure called a haustorium. James Mauseth, a botanist at the 
Jniversity of Texas, has shown that quintral haustoria 
sroduce several one-cell-wide filaments that enter the 

fii, in* 

pores of the cactus. After the filaments have successfully 
penetrated the host, the seed and radicle wither and fall, 
and the quintral proceeds to invade most of the host's tis- 
sues. It appears to proHferate particularly in the phloem, 
the tissue that conducts sugars from the photosynthetic 
surface of the cactus to the roots. Hidden within its host, 
the parasite grows for perhaps several years, after which 
the quintral tissues closest to the surface develop into 
buds. These emerge and turn into small branches that bear 
the red, tubular flowers that provide winter nectar for 
hungry hummingbirds. 

Long spines are just one characteristic that sets cactuses 
apart from the more typically parasitized tree or shrub. 
Cactuses difier from most misdetoe hosts not only in form 
but also in physiology. Most mistletoes live outside their 
hosts and tap into their host's water supply by making 
contact with the x7lem, the water-transporting system of 
a tree or shrub. Unlike these woody plants, cactuses are 
succulents, or water-conserving plants, whose juicy. 





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spongy tissues and sugar-conducting phloem 
offer an inviting hideout for a desert quintral. 

Most trees and shrubs take up atmos- 
pheric carbon dioxide during the day, but 
cactuses open their stomata — the cells that 
allow entrance of carbon dioxide — at night 
and close them during the day. This reduces 
evaporative water loss for the cactus and 
makes the composition of the carbon atoms 
within its tissues — its isotopic "signature" — 
different from those of other plants. We used 
this unique signature to determine how de- 
pendent the quintral was on the nutrients of 
its cactus hosts. Most mistletoes obtain water 
and minerals and a lesser amount of carbon 
from their hosts. We suspected that the quin- 
tral was obtaining a much greater amount of 
organic substances from cactuses. 

Marion Hourdequin, an undergraduate 
student at Princeton University, analyzed the 
tissues of both cactus and quintral and found 
a close correspondence between the compo- 
sition of parasite and host. Either quintral was 
obtaining most of its carbon, and hence its 
energy, from cactuses or, unlike other mistle- 
toes, quintral itself had evolved nocturnal car- 
bon dioxide uptake. To test these hypotheses, 
Hourdequin and Chilean plant physiologist 
Francisco Squeo conducted further experi- 
ments to measure the mistletoe's rate of car- 
bon dioxide production. Their results sug- 
gested that quintral does open its stomata 
during the day, but that its rate of photosyn- 
thesis is extremely low. While quintral retains 
some ability to photosynthesize, it appears to 
be unique among mistletoes in that it obtains 
most of its organic substances — carbon-con- 
taining compounds — from its cactus hosts. 
Mistletoes vary in the degree to which they 
draw sustenance from their host plants, and 
thus far, quintral appears to be the most para- 
sitic of all mistletoes. 

Traditionally, parasitologists have as- 
sumed that parasite-host interactions evolve 
to produce more benign parasites. Following 
this view, it is tempting to interpret the quin- 
tral's leaflessness and diminished photosyn- 
thesis as having evolved to minimize damage 
to the cactuses. Yet the quintral is anything 
but benign. Infected cactuses yield fewer of 
their own spiny fruits than do healthy cac- 
tuses. In some cactus species, quintral forms 
swoUen, tumorlike masses that give cactuses 
with advanced infection abnormally dis- 

tended branches. These branches often d 
and drop off after the quintral reproduce' 
We have found that cactus branches supporil 
ing a flowering and fruiting quintral lo< 
water at high rates, and such dehydratio 
probably plays an important role in branc 
death. Water balance is vital for a cactus, an 
if this balance is upset, the results can be de 
astating. In heavily infected cactus grove 
sun-bleached cactus skeletons and brancht 
with brown, dead patches are an eerie re 
minder of the quintral's virulence. Recentl 
evolutionary biologists have recognized th; 
parasites do not necessarily evolve int 
kinder, gentler forms over time, but remail 
or become more deadly, a view exemplifie 
by the quintral {see "On Darwin, Snow, an 
Deadly Diseases," by Paul W Ewald, Natun 
History, ]une 1994). 

Quintral's low-level photosynthesis an 
its reduced form — living a largely rootUk 
existence inside a cactus column and, one ^ 
emergent, bearing no leaves — pose twi 
questions. Why has this plant become mini 
malist in form and so injurious to its hosts' 
Because the quintral can effortlessly tap th' 
water and resources of the cactus, it has n( 
need to put forth leaves or photosynthesiz' 
its own nutrients. The external tissues of th' 
quintral contain only the most basic ele 
ments needed for successful reproductioi 
and dispersal. The way the tencas disperse 
the seeds — usually from their perches on al 
ready infected cactuses — may contribute tc 
the vu-ulence of quintral, as multiple infec 
tions afflict the same cactus. If compedns 
quintral parasites occupy the same host, then 
is little to gain from using the host's resource 
wisely and sparingly. 

I suspect that rural Chileans have lonj 
recognized the quintral's dual role as botl 
scourge and benefactor. In the seventeentl 
century, a wealthy Chilean noblewoman 
Doiia Catalina de los Rios, became notori- 
ous for her iU treatment of slaves and hei 
habit of preserving the secrecy of her affair; 
by murdering her lovers. When older, tc 
make amends for the habits of her youth 
Doiia CataUna became a devout Christiar; 
and gave lavishly to the church. She hac 
been a beauty with a mane of flaming rec 
hair, and the people called her la Quintrala. 
The natural history of this mistletoe suggests, 
that the name was fitting. D' 






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Rl Serenade 
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Orchestra of St. Luke's 


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Above: From the 
summit of Wlieeler 
Peak, a 13,063-/001- 
high mass of erosion- 
resistant quartzite, the 
Snake Range can be 
seen rising from tiie 
desert. Caves foun.d in 
the range's Umestone 
and marble formations 
sheher a number of bat 
colonies. A horde of 
B)-a~Hi:iu free-tailed 
■-i'uj citdc a cave 
entrance, right. 

Field Gu I 


N e va d a's N i g h t F I i e r s 


[[^Bthe Great Basin, 
^^illions of bats cling to 
eir vulnerable hideaways 

' Peter V. Bradley 

began as the almost inaudible 
tter of one pair oi: leathery 
ngs, but within minutes the 
und had grown to a deafening 
ar. A living tornado ot Brazil- 

free-tailed bats had risen 
>m the depths of the cavern 
;o a large, domed room near 
e entrance, where they spi- 
ed in a holding pattern, never 
ice colhding with one an- 
her. When a critical mass was 
ached, they began to peel off 
the outer edge of the funnel 
3ud and disappear through the 

large cave entrance. In bursts of 
more than a thousand bats per 
minute down to trickles of 
thirty per minute, the colony ot 
50.000 to 80.000 individuals 
(estimates vary greatly because 
of the difficulty of counting 
small animals zipping by in such 
large numbers) emptied into the 
night sky for nearly three hours. 
Before dawn, this cloud of 
mammals would relieve the val- 
ley below of approximately 
300 million night-flying 
insects — mosquitoes, gnats, 
moths, the works. 

Limestone and marble 

Free-taU Cave — as 1 will call it 
to protect it from being ruined 
with garish, multicolored light- 
ing, sidewalks, elevators, and 
underground snack bars — is just 
one ot many roosts used by the 

bat community living in the 
limestone, marble, and quartzite 
clitls of Nevada's Snake Range. 
The limestone originated in the 
shallow seas of 600 million years 
ago, when the shells ot marine 
animals accumulated in thick 
layers and were gradually com- 
pressed. Extreme heat and pres- 
sure then transformed some of 
the Umestone into marble. Over 
a period ot millions of years, the 
layers were uphfted, and mildly 
acidic groundwater dissolved the 
limestone and marble along 
fractures, creating myriad caves. 

Today, the cave-permeated 
cliffs, some as high as 7,000 feet, 
extend tor miles above the adja- 
cent valley floors. Much of this 
prime bat territory lies within 
Great Basin National Park (the 
nation's newest), near Nevada's 

border with Utah. In addition 
to its wilderness areas, the park 
is known for its ancient groves 
of brisdecone pine (one tree was 
found to be nearly 5,000 years 
old) and for Lehman Caves, 
which extends a quarter mile 
into the mountains. 

A diverse community 

Surveying the park and its envi- 
rons for Nevada's Division of 
Wildlife, I have so far found 
eleven bat species making their 
home here. There are pallid, 
hoary, silver-haired, big-eared, 
big brown, and western pip- 
istreUe bats (all representing dif- 
ferent genera), as well as long- 
legged, httle brown, 
small-footed, California, and 
long-eared bats (which are all in 
the genus Myctis). 

The park, despite its diverse 


lasin and Range 

Nevada Utah 

All Ears 

Great Basin 
National Parl< 



6 50 

A, Cavesp, « 
Wheeler ^ n 

Peak z Visitors' 

5- Center 


Great Basin 
National Park 

Humboldt National Forest 
Iw iicu'csl nalioual jhtrL 


loiriiiCiiiVs liii^-ciiivd hilt iclics on ioihir ciiiocs to Inuk its imcci prey. 

bat fauna is home only to insec- 
ti\^rous, species — ^as is true in 
most of the rest of the United 
States. On the country's south- 
em borders, however, nectar- 
eating species abound. These 
bats are solely responsible for 
the pollination and seed disper- 
sal of oi^an pipe and saguaro 
cactuses, as well as many other 
types of plants, including several 
species of agave. 

Migrants and hibernators 
D.;r:::g the colder months, 
V. ben insects are scarce in the 
parL some bats, such as 
Townsends big-eared bats, hi- 
bernate in the caves; others mi- 
grate to warmer climes, some 
sharing the range of the nectar- 
eaters. The BrazUian free-tailed 
bat has strong flight muscles, 
long, narrow wings, a stream- 
lined face suited to high speed, 
and the phwcal endurance 
needed to migrate. The silver- 
haired, hoary, and long-le^ed 
Alyotis bats share these features 

and may migrate as well. Spring 
brings a flush of insects. The 
migrants return, the hibernators 
emerge, and the Great Basin bat 
fauna is once again complete. 

One of the best places to sur- 
vey the bats following this re- 
unification is near one of the 
park's rare watering holes. The 
Snake Range — ^with more than 
a dozen mountains above 
11,000 feet — regularly extracts 
considerable moisture from 
passing clouds in the form of 
winter snow. When spring ax- 
ri\'es, most of this water soaks 
into the permeable rock, leaving 
the park nearly as dry as the rest 
of the Great Basin. Some 
groimdw^ater collects along fis- 
sures and fault lines and resur- 
faces at a few isolated springs. 
The bats sometimes travel nules 
fiiom their day roosts to drink 
and feed at the springs. 

Bats have been persecuted 
for as long as anyone can re- 

member, and despite their rela- 
tive isolation, populations in the 
Snake Range are no exception. 
As recendy as 1993, men were 
seen shooting high-powered 
rifles into Free-tail Cave. 
Given that bats use their sensi- 
tive ears to navigate and track 
their prey by echolocation, this 
senseless act may well have 
"blinded,'" at least temporarily 
the entire roost. 

Evidence of decline 
The cave sustained more per- 
manent damage in 1926, when 
"phosphate miners" (the Bureau 
of Land Management's term for 
bat-excrement diners) blasted 
an entrance ttmnel direcdy into 
the roosting chamber in Free- 
tail Cave. Today, cold, ammo- 
nia-laden air often pours fi-om 
the new opening. What effect 
the blasting had on the bats is 
uncertain, but it seems likely 
that the temperature in the cave 
is no longer suitable for firee- 
tailed bat reproduction. In the 

1940s, cavers estimated that a 
quarter miUion to a half millic 
bats used the cave, numbers i 
valing those of Carlsbad Cave 
in New Mexico. And in the 
1960s, there was evidence of; 
reproducing colony of female 
These days, however, nets 
erected across a portion of the 
cave's natural entrance trap on 
nonreproductive adults. 

While most limestone re- 
gions are dotted with caves, th 
caves in and around the Great 
Basin National Park pro\'ide tl 
bats with a range of critical 
habitats: warm maternit\' rocs: 
are found near the lower slope 
and caverns with temperatures 
only sHghdy above fi-eezing. 
used for riding out the winter, 
are found at higher elevations. 

At 10:30 on one black Au- 
gust night, our surv^ey team 
staked out a maternity cave 
housing a small colony of pale 
TowTisend's big-eared bats. 

Limestone Vault 

Voracious Insectivore 

Another member qt the park's flying mammal fauna, a hoary bai, bares 
its needle-sharp teeth. Perfea for snatching insects in midair, suchjangs 
have undoubtedly fueled popular misconceptions about bats. 

Brighrly lit Lchm.m C.-,vcs. r. si,i_-. ,pite its name, extends a 

quarter mile into the limestone at tlie base of the Snake Range. 


I of fas 


i]/norhiniis towiisendii palUdus. 
liide the cave entrance, we 

set up a harp trap (rvvo 
p'jlel walls of monofilament 
li i, spaced at one-inch 
rvals and held taut by a 
d frame). 

ling up stakes 

|.ting for the first unlucky fe- 
e to land in the trap, I 
ught of the sensitivity of 
ie bats to human disturbance 
:he Midwest, an entire ma- 

proii lity colony of Townsend's 
-ears, banded by well-mean- 
biologists interested in 

K% dying movements and roost 

'(fH ;lity, picked up their naked, 
k, newborn pups, which 
ighed almost half as much as 

MKfl^mselves, and moved to an al- 
ate roost site a quarter mile 
|ay from human interference, 
.quipped with night-vision 

es and an infrared Ught 
rce, we watched as the bats 
ited by in the eerie, artificial 
en glow. Emerging from the 

cave, the bats circled the en- 
trance and flew back inside. 
Some repeated this ten to fifteen 
times before finally exiting into 
the night to dine on moths and 
other winged insects. Their 
flight appeared effortless, lofty, 
wispy compared with some of 
the more businesslike flight pat- 
terns of other bat genera. 

Most of the bats detected the 
trap and fluttered past into the 
blackness. But some, navigating 
defdy through the first bank of 
monofilaments, fluttered into 
the second bank and fell into 
the large white canvas holding 
bag. Within half an hour we 
had caught all the bats we 
needed and dismantled the net. 
One haggard, stift-winged fe- 
male appeared in the catch. Her 
teeth were worn down almost 
to the gums, and her wings had 
numerous holes and were 
scarred along the edges. I esti- 
mated her age at about twenty- 

seven and wondered what her 
years of experience could have 
told us about the habits of her 
species. I let her crawl up my 
bare hand and flutter free. We 
selected ten younger females, 
gently measured and weighed 
them, and fitted radio transmit- 
ters (weighing only two-thirds 
of a gram) to their backs. Ten 
minutes later they, too, were re- 
leased into the warm night air. 

Working mothers 

During the two weeks in mid- 
August that we tracked these fe- 
males, they revealed their 
nightly haunts. Alter leaving 
their day roost, they flew 
straight to the nearest watering 
hole, drank their fiU in minutes, 
and headed for the canopies of 
pinyon pine, Utah juniper, 
mountain mahogany, and white 
fir, where they hunted moths 
for hours. Surprisingly, not one 
ot the marked females was ever 
detected in the thousands of 
acres of sagebrush and grassland 

histlccoiic piiici. ill ivhich hats also iwist, oimc the park's iiioiiiilaiii slopes dt cicvdiloiis 
ctu'ceii 9.500 and 1 1.000 feet. Individual trees may live for thousands of years. 

adjacent to their maternity' 
roosts. We also found that the 
bats returned to feed night after 
night in individual territories. A 
few females even had night 
roosts in other caves near these 
territories, which they used 
prior to returning to their ma- 
ternity roosts at dawn. Most had 
left behind fuUy developed 
young in the maternity cave and 
had switched from a schedule of 
four breast feedings per night to 
two: one prior to departure and 
one on return to the roost after 
foraging. Their young were 
nearly ready for flight and were 
being gradually weaned from 
their mothers' care and readied 
for life in the harsh environment 
of the Great Basin National 
Park, their permanent residence. 

Cristi Baldino, an ecologist 
employed by the National Park 
Service and the area's most elo- 
quent spokesperson for bat con- 
servation, understands the 

Close Company 

.4 densely packed eoloiiy of adult 
and immature Brazilian free- 
tailed hats clings to a cave roof. 




stresses placed on the park's hi- 
bernating bats. 

At a campfire presentarion, 
Baldino points out that in Janu- 
ar\- temperatures here can plum- 
met to —25° F, making it one of 
the coldest spots in the state. 
Blizzards driven by gale-force 
winds can drop t^'o feet ot crys- 
tal powder per hour. "What on 
earth is a nine-gram bat that 
doesn't migrate to do?"' Baldino 
asks rhetorically, staring into the 
eyes of an attentive camper. 
"These na\"igators of our sum- 
mer skies spend the winter 
months in a state of true hiber- 
nation deep within the cold air 
sinks of Great Basin National 
Park's limestone caverns. Their 
body temperature drops to 44° 
F, conser\'ing their limited fat 
stores for the long winter haul." 

Their need to hibernate is 
what makes these bats most wd- 
nerable to disturbance. Accord- 
ing to Baldino, even a small 
group of spelunkers entering 

Tight Grasp 

All <.mina.tiire Bmziiuin tree- 
tailed bat uses its thumbs to cling 
to its mother's back. Usually 
producing only one young per 
year, this bat species, like most 
others, cannot rapidly repopulate 
a roost once it is disturbed. 

one of the park's caves in mid- 
winter can be disastrous. The 
yeUow light fiom headlamps 
flashing across the walls of a cave 
is enough to cause the bats to 
unfurl their enormous ears — the 
teUtale sign that they have been 
roused from torpor. By the time 
the bats settle back into their hi- 
bernation, they have lost 30 
percent of their body fat — from 
one seemingly minor disturb- 
ance. It their fat stores run out 
before spring, the\-'ve nm 
out of options. 

Curbing vandals 

The human impact on big- 
eared bat colonies has been 
calamitous. Population declines 
in Calitbmia. Oregon, Wash- 
ington, and Idaho tell the sad 
tale. That is why, with help 
from park management. Baldino 
has been able to secure seasonal 
closures on known Corynotiiinus 
hibernation roosts. 

Vandalism and pesticide 
spraving in the surrounding vA- 

On tiie Fly 

leys also threaten the park's bats. 
Baldino cites one cherr)' 
grower, who, after hearing how 
many insects bats consume, sur- 
rounded his orchards with bat 
roost boxes. The bugs \'anished, 
eliminating the need for pesti- 
cides. She w^as more pessimistic 
about curbing the senseless de- 
struction by cave vandals. 

On another windless summer 
night observing the bats pour- 
ing fiom Free-tail Cave, I con- 
sidered that this colony might 
be the largest concentration of 
mammals in the Great Basin, 
excluding of course, the humans 
in Reno and Salt Lake Cit^". 
Landfills, sewage treatment 
planes, oil refineries, factories, 
highwa\-s. and housing develop- 
ments spread out in concentric 
circles fi»ni these cities, reach- 
ing farther and farther into the 
surroimding deserts and moun- 
tains. The bats seem tidy and 

economical in comparison. 
Their pile of excrement, sis feet 
deep, fony feet wide, and thirty 
feet long, sits directly beneath 
their roosting dome. Infir m 
deformed, and aging bats fall 
into this same pile, all to be 
neatly recycled by scavengers on 
the cave floor. 

Ultimate liardsliips 
In :h. r". .::;::^ ; .^-^-:. I 
watch as an American kestrel 
waits patiently on the rocks 
above the cave entrance for a 
chance to grab a fiirry meal on 
the wing. I counted seven 
swoops, but the raptor only 
managed to terminate the flight 
of one unlucky Brazilian free- 
tail before darkness descended — 
not a significant drain on a pop- 
ulation that took hours to 
empt\' into the moonless night- 
Left alone, the bats have en- 
dured nature s hardships for 
thousands of years. The ques- 
tion is, can the\- endure us? D 

Before heading 

,"; for insecis, a i. 

lyotis skims across a pool, drinking its fill of water. 





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Central Park ^^^st at 79th Street, New York Citj^ 
For information, call 212-769-5100 


-^ Xv^^ 



'^ ' 




4 ■ 4. 

Field G u 1 1' 


i.H a w a i i Vole a n o e s 


.National Park 

Robert H. Mohlenbrock 

ingest of the 131 islands, 
fs, and shoals that make up 
Hawaiian archipelago, the 
Island of Hawaii has been 
least worn down over time 
therefore boasts the state s 
hest mountains. Mauna Kea, 
3,796 feet above sea level, is 
state's tallest peak, with 
iw on its summit for much of 
winter; Mauna Loa is almost 
ligh, reaching 13,677 feet. 
The Big Island is also the 
)st volcanically active in the 
hipelago. It is formed of five 
lad volcanic domes. Kohala, 
the windward northwest 

ew Land 

il: A tiny piikiaiiv plant — 
distant relative of the 
■leberq' — sprouts from lam on 
laiina Uhi Crater 
bore: The striated pattern of 
is type of flow, known as 
ihoclwe, results when thin 
va slowly cools. 

coast, is the oldest and the only 
one considered extinct. Hualalai 
has been dormant only since 
1801. During the last week in 
March 1984, both Mauna Loa 
and Kilauea were in simultane- 
ous eruption. Mauna Kea's last 
eruption, which lasted for 
twenty-one days, produced 
enough lava to cover more than 
18,000 square miles. From vents 
on the volcano's slopes at 9,400 
feet, lava poured at the rate of 
one miUion cubic yards per 
hour and flowed for a distance 
of sixteen miles. 

Recognition of the geologi- 
cal significance of the island, as 
well as its biological diversity, 
resulted in the establishment of 

The Fire This Time 

the 359-square-mile Hawaiian 
Volcanoes National Park. Parts 
of Mauna Loa and Kilauea He 
within the park boundaries, but 
volcanoes are not the whole 
story. The park's disparate habi- 
tats — ranging firom sea level to 
above the tree line, from rain 
forest to desert, from fresh lava 
flows to relatively ancient 
soils — support a diverse flora 
and fauna. In addition, humans 
have altered the landscape by 
bringing in countless nonnative 
species of plants and several 
nonnative animals. 

As Kilauea's eruptions con- 
tinue today, lava flows down its 

eastern flanks and enters the Pa- 
cific Ocean, creating a stupen- 
dous mushroom-shaped cloud 
of steam. You can drive on 
Chain of Craters Road only 
until you reach the place where 
past lava flows have covered it; 
then you must walk about one- 
fourth of a mile to witness the 
lava as it enters the water. The 
lava buildup has added more 
than 400 acres of land to the is- 
land since the 1980s. 

Driving the park roads and 
hiking the trails, one sees 
calderas, rift zones, numerous 
lava flows (both old and new), 
smooth pahoehoe lava, rough 
lava, lava tubes, steam vents, and 
sulfur banks. 

On the coast of the Big Island, lara from Kilauea erupts oiu of the surf. 

To get a sense of the area's bi- 
ological diversity, plan for a long 
day trip to Hawaii Volcanoes 
National Park. One interesting 
phenomenon is the growth ot 
vegetation on fresh lava flows. 
This can be observed in a num- 
ber of places, but it is nicely in- 
terpreted along Devastation 
Trail. At first, only algae and 
lichens find a foothold in the 
crevices of lava where a little 
shade may exist and where 
water and windblown particles 
gradually accumulate. Algae 
usually estabhsh themselves 
within the first three months. 
Then mosses (most often mem- 
bers of the genus Cainpyloptis) 
come in, followed by sword 
ferns and a few grasses. 

Within four years of a lava 
flow, young trees of ohia 
lehua may be seen growing 
from the cracks in the lava. If 
moisture is abundant, the ohia 
lehua trees may develop into a 

''-' :'■■<■ 'i'V'isn 

forest that could become a ma- 
ture rain forest in four hundred 
years, according to research bi- 
ologist Charles P. Stone. 

Among the earhest animals to 
colonize a lava flow, sometimes 
even before the algae arrive, are 
a wingless cricket, a bhnd wolf 
spider, and a tiny hemopteran 
insect called a plant hopper. 

Long lava flows can be seen 
throughout the park and are 
particularly evident along the 
Chain of Craters Road. Once 
you have descended from the 
mountam to sea level along this 
road, look back toward the 
mountain to see broad black 
flows of lava separated by strings 
of green vegetation. In these 
areas, called kipukas, the flows 
are older, and soil has built up 
to support a variety of trees, 
shrubs, and wUdflowers. 

The most accessible and fa- 
mous kipuka in Hawaii Volca- 
noes National Park is Kipuka 
Puaula, also known as Bird 
Park, reached by a short trail off 

Mauna Loa Strip Road. After 
centuries of weathering, Kipuka 
Puaula's soil is deep and rich 
compared with the surrounding 
lava. There is a mile-long loop 
trail through the kipuka, but 
vandals have removed some of 
the numbered stakes. 

Much of the kipuka consists 
of a forest of tall ohia lehua 
trees, those pioneers at fresh lava 
flows. Here, in the rich soil of 
the kipuka, some of the speci- 
mens of the ohia lehua are more 
than one hundred feet tall. Oc- 
casional koa trees, a type of aca- 
cia valued for its extremely 
beautiful wood, are also present. 
One koa tree, at the end of a 
spur on the main trail, has a 
trunk diameter of more than 
seven teet. 

The trail goes over small 
ridges and into shallow valleys, 
with slight elevational differ- 
ences responsible for the chang- 

ing plant communities. Lar 
soapberry trees sometimes ;ich 
the heights of the ohia lehi in 
the upper canopy. The naidifc 
layer beneath the canopy is''' 
much more diverse; the mci 
common trees there are mai 
maki, papala kepau, maniar 
and kolea. 

Mamaki is a small tree inie 
nettle family, whose membu in 
the contiguous forty-eight 
United States usually are nc- 
woody and do not grow ini; 
trees. Clusters of tiny greeni 
flowers are crowded where ch 
leaf stalk joins the stem. Thi 
narrow, tubular white flowe of 
the papala kepau tree are shed 
Uke the flowers of a four- 
o'clock, to which it is relate 
The fruits of this species are 
covered by a sticky glue, cald 
bird Ume, which the natives 
used to smear on tree branc s 
to trap birds, which were thi 
killed for their bright feathe. 
This practice is one reason ttt 


—LOlogitully d I'ciit, H-iwtii Volcanoes National Park runs the gamut 
from desert to lush kipuka, above. Here, moisture-loping hapuu tree 
ferns and ohia lehua trees line the Kilauea Iki trail. 

The Big Island of 
Hawaii is the 
archipelago's youngest 
geologically and most 
active vokanically. 

Volcanoes National Park 


^ Mauna Loa 
Kilauea Caldera 

Niihau A, Molokai 

Honolulu *»-_ ,. . 

u.,. Kahoolawe r 

A Maura Loa 

Kipuka Puaula" 
Kilauea Caldera '^ 

Hawaii Volcail 
National Par''' 


_ -Thurston Lava Tube 
Devastation Trail 


'*'' -'5ci e of Hawaii's more colorful 
""''*b' s are either extinct or near- 

II extinction. 
> member of the legume 

l' ily, maniane produces bright 

y -iw flowers with rich nectar 
■■'*^i; serves as a food for the apa- 
'" nutp e and iiwi, two honeycreep- 

L- that still can be seen flitting 
ut in the kipuka. Kolea is in 

il tropical myrsine family and 
■ h deep green, magnohalike 

li es crowded at the tips of the 

' iches. The bright pink 
- V ng leaves help to identify 
Jivlifitl species. 

simli i-ew nonwoody plants grow 
iitttrbthe forest floor, except for 
: s le grasses. One exception is 

I -sive carpets of a native 
:..:;..:p)eromia that looks very simi- 
leasiiljto peperomias that we grow 
dutailioors in the northern United 
fiiam^tes. Known as alaala wai nui 
xbadlHawaii, it also grows as an 
wereifphyte on the trunks of trees. 
rei>OD: ( 

Patches of rain forest occupy 
niches in the wetter parts of 
Hawaii Volcanoes National 
Park. The largest, called the 
Olaa Forest, is in a noncontigu- 
ous section north of the main 
part of the park and is not read- 
ily accessible to the general visi- 
tor. To get a ghmpse of rain for- 
est, however, you can take the 
short trail to the Thurston Lava 
Tube. The rain forests receive 
up to one hundred inches of 
rain each year and never experi- 
ence a dry season. 

The dominant tree in the rain 
forest is ohia lehua, but a con- 
siderable number of other spe- 
cies make up the midcanopy. 
Some of these are olapa, kawau, 
and pilo. Olapa, related to the 
Httle medicinal wildflower 
known as ginseng, is readily rec- 
ognized by its leaves, which are 
divided into three, four, or five 
large leaflets that flutter in the 
Hghtest breeze like those of a 
quaking aspen. 

Kawau, also known as 
Hawaiian hoUy, is a true holly 
whose round, black berries — 
purple on the inside — are re- 
ported to be an important food 
source for the Hawaiian thrush. 
Pilo is a small tree with red- 
orange fruits containing two 
seeds that resemble coffee beans. 
It is no coincidence that pilo 
belongs to the coffee family. 

A complete contrast to the 
rain forest is the Kau Desert in 
the shadow of Mauna Loa in the 
southwest quadrant of the park. 
Not only does the Kau receive 
very little moisture, but sul- 
furous fumes, toxic to most 
plants, float into the desert from 
nearby Halemaumau Crater in 
Kilauea Caldera. This extremely 
harsh environment supports 
very Uttle Hfe, although the ever 
present ohia lehua grows here, 
avoiding the effects of the sulfur 
dioxide by closing up the 

minute openings (stomates) on 
its leaves. 

Here and there in the Kau 
Desert are occasional plants of 
pukiawe, ohelo (a type of blue- 
berry), cape gooseberry, and 
blackberry, all of which provide 
food for the endangered nene, 
or Hawaiian goose. One reason 
the nene holds on here is that 
the harsh conditions have kept 
away the mongoose, which 
preys on the bird's eggs. 

For visitor information, write: 


Hawaii Volcanoes National Park 

RO. Box 52, 

Hawaii National Park, 

Hawaii 96718 


Robert H. Mohknbrock, professor 
emeritus of plant biology at South- 
ern Illinois Uuipersity, Carbondale, 
explores the biological and geological 
highlights of the U. S. national 
forests and other parklands. 

loling Off 

Irresistible Force 

Pioneer Species 

flow altering the sea at 
•ilight from Pun Oo vent, 
■vnoamoa coastline, in Volcanoes 
ational Park 


A stunted oliM Iciiiia tiec in the 
Kilauea Iki Crater 

1 he Sidllcrcd ivniiiiiis of trees altcsl to the poirer of a I'-J?^^ Lu\i flou: 

^t}^-ES^&B^t:^i A ■ 

Ve^^^ ant Performanc 

By Joe Rao 

Every eight years, the steep 
angle of the ecliptic (the plane 
of the solar system) from the 
western horizon conspires with 
an eastern elongation of Venus 
to loft the planet into the late 
night sky. This winter, Venus 
wQl be extraordinarily bright; it 
will rise much higher in the sky 
and will be visible much later in 
the evening than usual. 

Now is a great time to start 
watching Venus, since you can 
follow some interesting changes 
in its appearance in the coming 
months. A telescope will reveal 
how the planet seems to swell as 
it nears Earth, gaining on us in 
its smaller, faster orbit around 
the sun. 

By April 1, the date of its 
greatest eastern elongation, 
Venus will be 46° from the sun. 
Many astronomy books tell us 

Venus Revealed Surface details of the gas-sliwiidcd planet emerge in 
tliis false-color image, generated by radar data from the now defunct 
Magellan spacecraft. A dense carbon dioxide atmosphere envelops Venus, 
making it appear nearly featureless to earthbound observers. 

that Venus cannot stray far mi 
the sun and that you can ntjir 
see it at the stroke of midni'it. 
But by about the third wee'of 
April, it will be setting just ter 
inidnight, local daylight tin 
for observers near the westti^. 
margins of their time zones] 

By May, Venus will seei 
teen times brighter than Sii 
the brightest star. Venus owjits 
brilliance (second only to tj 
of the moon in the night sk! to 
its cloak of thick clouds, cos 
sisting chiefly of highly reflei- 
tive sulfuric acid droplets. lil ■ 
deed the planet is bright enijgh 
(when no moon or bright ' 
lights interfere) to cast shadqfs 
on the ground. ,; 

Venus will be most brilliat 
in early June when it is midky 
between greatest elongationnd 
conjunction with the sun. Ati 
this burst of glory, it will ; 
quickly slide into the solar gte. 

The Planets in February 

Mercury is best seen early this month when it rises in twilight in 
the south-southeast nearly one and a half hours before sunup. 
Mercury reaches greatest elongation, 25.9°, west of the sun on the 
11th. Thereafter, it rapidly becomes difficult to spot for observers in 
midnorthern latitudes. It closes m on the sun and moves southward 
across the ecliptic, which at this time of the year hes low along the 
eastern morning horizon. Although stiU 22° from the sun at 
month's end, Mercury wiU rise barely forty minutes before sunrise 
as seen at latitude 40° north. On the morning of the 17th, a very 
tlain crescent moon wUl be well to the left (east) of Mercury and 
difficult CO see. 

iVias'S is too deeply immersed in the evening rwiUght to be 
observable this month even with binoculars. 

Venus wiU rendezvous with Saturn on February 2, the two planets 
coming within almost 1° of each other. At magnitude -4.1, Venus 
will appear more than a hundred times brighter than its yellow 
neighbor. Then, on the 21st, a crescent moon will sit somewhat 
below and to the right of Venus, making an eye-catching scene. 
Jupiter IS in Sagittarius, north of the pattern of stars known as the 
Teapot. It rises shortly before the sun, placing it very low in the 

south-southeast at sunrise. Look for Jupiter well below an old 
crescent moon on the morning of the 15th. 
Saturn, shining like a yellowish white, first-magnitude "star," h 
low in the western sky and begins the month near briUiant Veni ii 
sets about 8:30 p.m. on the 1st, but about ninety minutes eariier ; 
the 28th. On the 1 1th, its ring system is tilted edgewise to our 1:.' 
of sight for the third time since last spring. Because the rings areiSS 
than a thousand feet thick, they are invisible from Earth even wi', 
the largest telescopes. Saturn will be well below and to the left c 
the crescent moon on the evening of the 20th. 

The IVIoon is full on the 4th ; 

at 10:57 a.m., EST; last quartJis 

on the 12th at 3:37 A.M., EST 

new phase is on the 

18th at 6:30 P.M., EST; 

and first quarter is on the 26tlkt 

12:52 A.M., EST. 

Meteorologist Joe Rao is a guest 
lecturer at the American 
Museum-Hayden Planetarium. 



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0309 for exact dates and 

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Unspoiled beauty, endless 
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11. International Journeys 
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T r a V e I and R e a d i n 

Kingdom of Gold 

page 36 

Accra, Ghana's capital and one 
of Africa's most vibrant cities, is 
the logical place to start a tour 
of the country. In town there 
are open air markets tor food 
and everyday items, a crafts 
market \vith tourist wares, and a 
flourishing art center. Nearby is 
a new performance center for 
Ghanaian drama, music, and 
dance. The National Museum 
gives a good introduction to the 
diversity of the country, with 
exhibits featuring textiles, pot- 
tery, sculpture, and inetalwork. 

If you hire a car, with or 
TOthout a driver, you can either 
proceed west toward the coastal 
forts and castles, including 
Eknina, with stops at beaches 
and fishing villages along the 
way, or north 150 rmles to Ku- 
masi. Only fifteen rrdles from 
Eknina Casde is Kakum Na- 
tional Forest, which features a 
canopy walkway. 

Kumasi has a cultural center 
and a spectacular central market, 
where people can be seen work- 
ing at their crafts and seUing just 
about everything. In the center 

of town, the fort buUt by the 
British at the rime of the con- 
quest has been converted into 
an interesting miUtary museum. 

The north gives the traveler a 
different experience from the 
south — the landscape is dry and 
open, and the traditional archi- 
tecture changes from place to 
place. In some areas, the women 
paint geometric designs on the 
mud brick houses. You can 
make Tamale your base and 
from there explore the country's 
Northern and Upper regions. 

For more about Ghana, read 
Jlie Arts of Ghana, by Herbert 
M. Cole and Doran H. Ross 
(Los Angeles: Museum of Cul- 
tural History, 1977), Tlie Asaiite, 
by M. D. McLeod (London: 
British Museum Publications, 
1981), and Asante in the Nine- 
teenth Century, by Ivor WOks 
(Cambridge University Press, 
paperback, 1989). 

Uncommon Commuters 

page 58 

San Miguel Island, off the coast 
of southern California, is one of 
five islands that make up Chan- 

Culpeo foxes, common in Fmy Jorge park, are relatively ram 

nel Islands National Park, cre- 
ated in 1980. 

Most of the year, San Miguel 
is shrouded in fog, and strong 
northwest winds batter the is- 
land relentlessly. The weather 
and hmited transportation op- 
portunities make for few visitors 
on San Miguel, but one can get 
there by boat from the main- 
land. Once on the island, you 
can hike the seven miles to 
Point Bennett to look for ele- 
phant seals and California sea 
Hons. Camping is available in 
summer by permit from Na- 
tional Park Headquarters in 
Ventura, and organizations in 
Ventura and Santa Barbara 
sponsor charters and day trips. 
It's wise to make reservations 
well in advance. 

Murder by Mistletoe 

page 64 

Fray Jorge National Park is lo- 
cated in north-central Chile, 
270 miles north of Santiago and 
36 miles south of La Serena. 

The only way to get into the 
park is by car. A steep but driv- 
able road cUmbs to the top of 
the coastal range, from which 
you can see both the Pacific 
Ocean to the west and the 
Andes to the east. 

The park has an unusual di- 
versity of habitats, ranging from 
the very dry (thorny scrub and 
cactus groves) to the very wet 
(foggy elfin forests); as a result. 
It is a great place to botanize. A 
large stretch ot rocky coast in 
the lower western foothills is ac- 
cessible only to adventurous 
hikers, but (according to author 
Carlos Martinez del Rio) 
"'worth every blister" because 
the landscape along the way is 
so bizarre and splendid. 

Although the austral sunien 
(December through March an 
be unbearably hot and dust fell 
and spring are delightful; e:ept 
for a few cold and blustery qfs, 
so is winter. 

The park guards are kno ^ 
edgeable about the plants aiij 
animals there and are happyj 
provide information. Camf 
faculties are available. To le; 
more, contact the Corporai 
Nacional Forestal (CONAI 
Cordobez 281, La Serena, i\ 
(telephone 56-21-5073). 

Nevada's Night Fliers 

page 12 

Located near the Nevada- 
border, Great Basin Nation^ 
Park is off the tourist track It 
well worth a day visit. At th 
visitor center, you can arranr 
to tour Lehman Caves or ta 
the Wheeler Peak Scenic D 'e 
to the foot of the mountain ill 
other park roads are unpavei 
and infrequently traveled, sc 
you want to venture farther,e 
sure to get maps, advice, ancn- 
formation on current road al 
weather conditions. If you pii 
to stay longer (the park has in 
campgrounds), you might Wit 
to cUmb Wheeler Peak to se 
Nevada's only glacier. 

Although the bat caves ar 
not accessible to visitors, 
Lehman Caves (actually a sir e 
cavern) is representative of tl 
park's caves. It extends a qua.'r 
mile into the Hmestone and 
marble that flank the base of le 
southern Snake Range. Besiis 
the fanuliar cave formations 
(stalactites, stalagmites, 
columns), you v^dU see some; 
rare formations known as j 
shields, parachutes, anthodite' 
and "cave popcorn." 






Wherever you 
go in Arizona, 

you feel 
right at home. 




For a free Arizona Travel Packet, 
call 1 -SOO-SAQ-SQS?, ext.NH02. 


:mii I 
gunltii I 

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4) TravLtips Travel Voucher. $25 coupon 
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TiiUp Festival 

.join flower expert Johann Salk on a (rip to these 
famous spring festivities. See Amsterdam. Ilic wondrous 
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museums, and tulips of every size and color in bloom. 
Departs April 2Xth(Sunday ), 1996 and returns the 
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national celebration of festivities and markets 

throughout Holland A 'T ^ *•" April 30lh. Visit 
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auction in the _ , world. the 

famous "(Jarden ^^ of Holland" 

along the River ^^__>fl|MH||r \echt. stately 
mansions, and I h e ^B^^ 1 1 ^^^^ historic castles. 


I Limited to 24 participants 

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No bad 



In just one 8-hour day you"l! learn 

everything from composition to 

the latest exposure techniques. And 

you'll even get lunch along with the 

157-page Nikon School Handhook-all 

for 90 dollars. During 1996 we'll be in 

Atlanta. Boston. Chicago. Dallas. 

Houston. Miami. New York City. 

Philadelphia, Portland, San Diego. 

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1-10 plus carats. 520-580 each. With newsletters. Gem 
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1001 FREE THINGS, Imagine getting a priceless col- 
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binoculars since 1923. Alignment performed on our 
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Real Estate 

LET THE GO\"ERXMEXT PA'^ for your new or ex- 
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lodging. Six guests maximum. Guides available hik- 
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H.W.^, PRIVATE Beach front home on K 
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Day wUdemess journeys in Colorado/Utah 
1963. Informative Brochure (800) 423-4668. 

AD\'ENTTURE CALLING! Outstanding wildl^ 
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Call (800) 525-6772. 4 




AUGUST 1 996 



camping safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, 
babwe, Bots^vana, Namibia. Kilimanjaro dimh 
rilla tracking, more. Also, unique tours in Egyjt 
rael, Turkey, Jordan, Syria. Free color cataji 
Himalayan travel, (800) 225-2380, 24 hours. 

life/gorilla safaris to East and Southern Africa. 'so 
Egypt India, Burma, Around the World trips etc vt 
12* year. Call Wanderlust Adventures at (800)2- 

AFRICA: Personalized safaris in East and Soulm 
Africa featuring Ranch/Private Home Safaris,!! 
49,MtIremper,NY' 12457 1-800-724-1221. 

A HERPETOLOGICAL/Natural History e>o- 
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13-20, 5825.00 all inclusive from San Felipe. Brod^ 
(619) 630-3058. 

ent/Child Eco-Adventure in Puerto Rico June id 
August 1996. Brochure: (619) 630-3058. 

Take your body on a journey- 
that will exercise your mind. 

Easv-ooing walkino, cultural and 

natural history trips offer: 

" expert local naturalist and historian auidc^ 

• charmina and historic inns and lodges 

small groups of interesting fellow travelers 

For a free color catalog call toll-tree: 
1 -800-200-3887 



Ill* p jl 
Bee. ' 


|lu, 9 other adventurers and our licensed 
luralist will sail by yacht to explore more islands 

B3n any other Galapagos expedition. 60 trip 
lies. Machu Picchu option. Free brochure. 

Inca Floats 510-420-1550 
' 1 31 1 -N 63rd St., Emeryville CA 94608 

l\SKA'S NATURAL HISTORY and beauty is to be experienced by you. Otters, seals, ea- 
i, puffins, seabird rookeries, amazing tide pools, 
Ing, kayaking, fishing for salmon, halibut and 
1 1. Naturalist guides. Exquisite log lodge and cozy 
|ns in peaceh.ll ocean and mountain setting. Fine 
|i. 12 guests. $1950/5 days. Brown bear viewing 
|;e also, 6 guests, $2250/5 days. Kachemak Bay 
Idemess Lodge, Box 956, Homer AK 99603. (907) 
fc910, fax (907) 235-89n. 


LEflKEl fii 


T: E(i| 

Naturalist-guided trips from our basecamp fac- 
Prince William Sound's Columbia Glacier 22nd 
wn, P.O. Box 1313-NH, Valdez, AK 99686. (907) 

■VSKA, SIBERIA: Truly lu^que 7-17 day small 
ijp journeys, from wilderness kayaking, dog sled- 
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/enture Alaska, color brochure: (800) 365-7057. 

)sta Rica -Belize- Africa -Galapaoos 


FS Worldwide 
ICE 1982 
i. Box 3655-C13 
NORA, CA 95370 



FiiljiH Your Dredim 

: PS OF SWITZERLAND. "The Hikers Paradise." 
derate optional length Day hiking. Free brochure. 
— i;6) 867-3771. Alpine Adventure Trails Tours, 783P 
=«'li« Iffside Drive, Akron OH 44313-5609, 


ddle Fork Salmon or Snake River Family Focus 
)S a speciality. Since 1979. Free brochure: ROW 1- 

__ ^ 1AZ0NL\ EXPEDITIONS. The Amazon's lead- 
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1. 'lual attention. Regional references available. (800) 

nZONA! "Apacheria Borderlands." Hiking, Bird 
itching. History, Culture. Six guests maximum. 
I vate wildlife sanchiary lodging. (520) 455-5522. 


Follow Charles Darwin's route on a special 1 1 
day GALAPAGOS TRAVEL Expedition, led by 
tiistorian / cinematographer Greg Estes. 

P.O. Box 1220 • San Juan Baulisia, CA 95045 • (800)969-9014 

iture. Hiking and the Outdoors. Enjoy hiking and 
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5W Zealand's scenic National Parks and Milford 
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explore on your own. Free Brochures: Row 1-800- 

connecting culhare, spirit, and ecology! Escape with 
our wildlife research scientists for elegant and engag- 
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wildlands. (800) 507-2209. 

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AlfLi Inps lu: (Jlhtr pdrts ol 
Indonesia, Thailand, Malay 
Burma, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia 
Papua New Guinea 
Call FOR Catalog; 800-642-2742 

land discovery guidebook for walkers, hikers, bikers, 
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background and toavel information. $19.95 includes 
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Remote Park lodges in the Shactow of Mf. IvtcKinley 



Hiking, Wildlife, 
Natural History. 
Northern Studies 
Credit Courses 

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CRUISE TURKEY Twelve-day yacht tours of history 
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Rica, more with the California Native. CaU 1-800- 
926-1140 for free newsletter. 

GALAPAGOS ISLANDS tours since 1979. Mainland 
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Florida: Come and swim in the company of wild dol- 
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Cambodia, Burma, Indonesia: Tours, treks, wildlife, 
overland adventures. Huge selection. Affordable 
rates. Free color catalogs. Himalavan Travel, 112 
Prospect St., Stamford, CT 06901. 1-800-225-2380, 24 




■Mim m 

^_^^ L.UZC( 

JOURNEY WITH WHALES along Baja California 
aboard the Pacific Queen. Gray whales, elephant 
seals, dolphins; island, lagoon exploration; superb 
bird photography. 8/10 day expeditions December- 
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726-2228; (619) 224-4965. 

- for discerning travellers. Custom designed safari 
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Bill Dixson, Bruce Safaris/Discover Africa, Box 
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339094. Member ASTA. 





In-depih nature lours. Small groups, Evtelleni laluc. MM/. , 
taaCEHS P.O. Bo.\915-NH, Uhaca. NY HSSl. 1-800-633-0299 

SOUTH & CENTRAL AMERICA: CK'erland & nat- 
ural history tours, Amazon, Galapagos, Andean 
trekking. Free color catalog. Himalayan Travel. 1- 

WALK THRU HELLS CANYON along tlie Snake 
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Haven Ave, Pon Washingion, N> 1 1050 

AmerlcanAirlines* AA 



$20 For free information send SASE to CCG, Box 234, 
E.NortliportN.Y, 11731 

Rates and Styie Information 

S4.05 per word: 16 ivord minimum. Display classified 
is $440 per inch. Ad\-ertisements must be prepaid. 
Rates are not structured for agenc\' or cash discounts. 
Advertisements are accepted at NATUR.AL HIS- 
TORY'S discretion. Send check or monev order to: The 
Market/NATUR,AL HISTORY Magazine. Central 
Park West at 79th St., New York, NY 10024. Direct any 
written inquiries to Eileen O'Keefe or Jean-Christophe 
Fradet at the abo\-e address. Please include your per- 
sonal address and telephone number., issue preferred, 
and suggested categor)'. 

Th is Vi e'w of Life Nsiur 

(Continued from page 28) 
rectly perceive them as a bunch ot little 
legs waving about — and legs just don't 
protrude from mouths on a "proper" ver- 
tebrate model.) Dana, under the control- 
ling influence of his progressivist world- 
view, therefore chose to arrange the 
diversity of modern crustaceans in se- 
quences of primitive to advanced based 
upon the complexits' and domination of 
the head and its appendages. He then ex- 
tended this principle to all of animal hie. 

Dana first published his theory of 
cephalization in the mid-1850s, before 
learning of Darwin's ideas. But he wrote 
his four major articles on the subject be- 
nveen 1863 and 1866 (all pubhshed in the 
Aiiieiiccin Journal of Science, a periodical 
edited by Dana). 

I fmd the theory of cephaHzation won- 
derfully tascinating and a bit mad. It the 
editor of this magazine would grant me 
the entire issue, I would gladly discuss each 
of Dana's sixteen criteria (many with sev- 
eral subdivisions) for the supposedly ob- 
jective measure of precise degrees in or- 
ganic "highness" and "lowness" based on 
the character of the head and its relative 
domination of the body. I would also 
demonstrate the selt-serving (tor his 
worldview; not his persona) and "fluid" 
nature of these criteria — scarcely objective 
and ob\dously constructed in order to val- 
idate Dana's a priori desires, and almost 
wantonly fiidged or changed whenever an 
apparent exception arose. 

For example, one criterion states that 
progress can be measured by position of 
the head and brain along the body axis — 
the farther forward the better. Thus, Dana 
regards whales as "low" mammals because 
they have so much mouth and snout in 
front of the brain. But as soon as Dana gets 
stuck because a group he wants to regard 
as primitive happens to have a brain right 
; ;• "' . he just shifts criteria. For e.x- 
ainple, he wants to place milhpedes and 
centipedes belo\v insects, but these many- 
legged arthropods have a head and brain 
right at the front end. So he pronounces 
this particular head as weak, although lo- 
cated in the "right" place — as measured by 
its minimal domination over the rest of the 
body, as "lowly" legs proliferate behind. 
Dana writes: "The head is here stricdy at 

the anterior extremit\'; but the cephalic 
force has so feeble control, that the joints 
multiply behind." Dana even adrmts, in 
several passages, the inconsistency of his 
criteria but then argues that such com- 
plexity requires even more subtle interpre- 
tations, and ever more experienced inter- 
preters hke himself to make the system 

Each of Dana's papers attempts a sum- 
mary definition of cephalization as the 
dominant motor of hfe's progressive his- 
tory. His last fling on the subject, a final ar- 
ticle in 1876 after a ten-year hiatus, ofliers 
this account: 

In the low, there is, usually, large size and 
strength behind, an elongation of the whole 
structure, and a low degree of compactness in 
the parts before and behind; in the high, 
there is a relatively shorter and more com- 
pacted structure, a more forward distribution 
of the muscular forces or arrangements, and 
a better head; and the progress in grade . . . 
is progress along lines from the former condi- 
tion toward the latter, that is, progress in the 
strength, perfection and dominance of the 
anterior or cephalic extremity; in a word, it 
is progress in cephaUzation. 

Although Dana may have developed 
this concept from his work on Crustacea, 
and although he claimed an objective sta- 
tus for his theory', any thorough reading 
wU reveal (although 1 do not doubt that 
Dana had deluded himself into regarding 
cephahzation as nature's objective truth) 
that Dana cobbled this theory together in 
order to proclaim the message that con- 
trolled his worldview: the centrality and 
domination of human hfe in the cosmos. 
Why choose cephaHzation as the criterion 
of progress, except as a way of exalting a 
man's big head, located right at the top, 
and with the anterior limbs freed from the 
lowly task of locomotion and dedicated 
instead to the head's service (as I t\'pe this 
essay with my fingers, but only curl my 
toes uselessly under my chair)? Dana 

Wliile all other Mammals have both the 
anterior and posterior limbs as organs of 
locomotion, in Man the anterior are trans- 
ferred from the locomotive to the cephaUc 

series. Tliey serve the purposes of the ltd, 
and are not for locomotion. Tlie cephalic 
tion of the body — that is, the subordinan 
of its members and structure to head ns(- 
so variously exemplified in the animal k^ 
dom, here reaches its extreme limit. Ma ' 
in this, stands alone anjong Maiiiiiials. 

To buttress his second key notion of * 
ated type, Dana developed an idiosyncic 
taxonomy within a popular pre-Darwiju 
genre that evolution soon rendered ii> 
herent — a numerological system, wi j 
fixed number ot subgroups in each h^ 
group. He favored either two or four 
groups as the key to correct classificatii 

Historians of taxonomy have ofteoi 
gued — quite falsely — that, ironically, 
development of evolution inspired 
change in the structure of classificatioi 
the order that had once been attribute'ffl 
God could easily be shifted to evoluin 
without any alteration ot content. Fn 
this claim, we are supposed to draw w 
message that theories are mental const^ i 
tions sitting Ughtly upon nature — orii 
put the point another way, that nature's /- 
idem factuality must be rendered in 
same manner by any chosen mode o: 
planation. In either formulation, the fe 
of theorv, or worldvicAv, becomes s 
moted and the proper balance betweeni^ 
side theory and outside nature gets i-' 
totted by deemphasizing the inteial 
aspect of an intricate and equal pairing 

But this common claim is not t:e 
Evolution made a world of difl'erenccn 
classification. The major groups may 1*6 
retained their definitions (arthropods 
arthropods, and vertebrates are vertebKSr 
whether created by God or developecv 
evolution), but a hundred other signifidt 
details had to change because the geoH- 
try of evolution departs fundamenty 
from the structure of created systems, fi- 
merological schemes like Dana's dis- 
peared forever as soon as Darwinism - 
umphed — and, ironically, most practicg 
taxonomists don't even know that sih 
systems ever existed (and therefore faio 
appreciate the power of evolution to a't 
the practice of their profession) becae 
numerolog)r suffered such a complete ii 
sudden death. If God made all species, ;d 
their order reflects the nature of s 


u i;ht, then why not search for an ar- 
,11 , numerological system that might 
n )dy divine wisdom? But if organisms 
II ed together by genealogy on an evo- 
ut nary tree ofUte, then success or failure 
c ines a question of contingent history, 
II 10 rationale for fixed numbers of sub- 
re ps within each group can possibly be 
w .cd. 

hen Dana worked by twos, he di- 

u' i each group into a "typical" class 

■ \c ling the essence, and a "hemitypic" 

I.' specifying a departure. Thus, for ex- 

11 e, he regards terrestriality as typical 

I v'ertebrates (don't ask me why, for 

IN s came first — but do suspect an a priori 

I'lessity to define the group that contains 

lii'iiians as typical). The twofold division 

::. >i ertebrates therefore contrasts Tetra- 

iDcli (all terrestrial forms) as typical, with 

nh'iL's (fishes) as hemitypic. 

li I 'hen Dana worked by fours, he speci- 

iii three degrees of typicality in descend- 

; 11' order — alphatypic, betatypic, and 

iTf^ainatypic — with a fourth group as a 

;-ri. departure named "degenerative." In 

iBLh! version, mammals are alphatypic (for 

'd tiding tall), birds betatypic (lovely crea- 

; uis, but not on defining terra ftrma), rep- 

; 1 gammatypic (as slitherers on the 

:!:,M ind), and fishes degenerative (as hving 

«, n, le "wrong" place for vertebrates). 

1 a revealing article, entitled 

oughts on Species" (including miner- 

il ical as well as biological entities) and 

II lished in 1857 as Darwin was compos- 

1 his magnum opus, Dana defended his 

1 icrological system as embodying an 

I hangeable, Platonic, and universal 

1 h: 

!! ixcd lumihas, tlcfiiiltc in value ami defiant 
_, ( all destroying powers, are well known to 
'uiriKterisc nature fivm its basement to its 
'I'-stone. . . . The universe is not only 
iiscd on mathematics, but on finite deternii- 
ate numbers in the very nature of all its cl- 
inental forces. 

'ana even argued that the soul requires 
fi d numbers, both to avoid despondency 
!■> lerceiving order and to adore God even 
I'^re. (This passage also expresses Dana's 
Utility to any notion of graded evolu- 
ti lary transition between groups): 

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Were these units capable of blending with 
one another indefinitely, they would no 
longer be units, and species could not be rec- 
ognized. Tlie system of life would be a 
maze of complexities; and whatever its 
grandeur to a being that could comprehend 
the infinite, it would be unintelligible chaos 
to man. Tlie very beauties that might charm 
the soul would tend to engender hopeless de- 
spair in the thoughtful mind, instead of 
supplying his aspirations with eternal and 
ever-expanding truth. It would be to man 
the temple of nature fused over its whole 
surface and through its structure, without a 
line the mind could measure or comprehend. 

Darwin's candid reaction to Dana's two 
theories of cephalization and nunierologi- 
cal taxonomy beautifully illustrates the un- 
bridgeable discordance between their 
worldviews. On February 17, 186.3, in the 
interval between Dana's key letter on evo- 
lution and Darwin's emotional reply, Dar- 
win also wrote to his guru and confidant 
Charles Lyell about his unhappiness with 
Dana's paper on classification of mammals 
by principles of cephalization and nu- 
merological order. Darwin nails Dana for 
constructing a system whose absurdity 
would be apparent to anyone not firmly 
committed to ranking humans as the 
crown of creation. Dana's whole scheme, 
Darwin correctly notes, is one long, forced 
rationale for human centrahty: 

TTje same post that brought the enclosed 
brought Dana's pamphlet on the same sub- 
ject. Tlie whole seems to me utterly wild. If 
there had not been the foregone wish to sep- 
arate men, I can never believe that Dana or 
any one would have relied on so small a 
distinction as grown men not using fore- 
limbs for locomotion, seeing that monkeys 
use their limbs in all other respects for the 
same purpose as man. To carry on analo- 
gous principles . . . from Crustacea to the 
classification of mammals seems to me mad- 
ness. Vi%o would dream of making a funda- 
mental distinction in birds, from fore-limbs 
not being used at all in some birds, or used 
as fins in the penguin, and for flight in 
other birds? 

(In another example of how theory 
controls the arrangement of nature, Dana 

used fimctional status of the forelimb as 
the key character for making major taxo- 
nomic divisions among birds because, 
under his theory of cephahzation, the head 
controls the use of forelimbs and their sta- 
tus therefore defines degree of domination 
by the head. Darwin, in the last sentence 
of his letter to LyeU, regards such a scheme 
as absurd because different uses of fore- 
Hmbs, in his evolutionary version of life, 
are immediate adaptations to varying 
modes of hfe, not fundamental divisions 
on the genealogical tree of birds.) 

As a chief ingredient in the mythology 
of science, the gathering of objective facts 
controls a history of conceptual change — 
as logical and self-effacing scientists bow 
before the dictates of nature and willingly 
change their views to accord with our 
growing empirical knowledge. The para- 
digm for such an idealistic notion remains 
Huxley's famous remark about "a beautiful 
theory, killed by a nasty, ugly little fact." 
But single facts almost never slay world- 
views, at least not right away (and properly 
so, for the majority of deeply anomalous 
observations turn out to be wrong; every 
datum for the revolution of the earth can 
be paired with a hundred claimed observa- 
tions for cold fusion, perpetual motion, or 
the transmutation of gold). 

Rather, anomalous facts are simply in- 
corporated into existing theories, often 
with a bit of forced stretching to be sure, 
but usually with decent fit because most 
worldviews contain considerable fiexibihty 
(how else could they last so long or be so 
hard to overthrow). The best test case for 
the power of worldviews to order and in- 
terpret facts — and, therefore, for the fasci- 
nating and intricate interaction of theory 
and data in science — arises when someone 
discovers an absolutely pristine and unan- 
ticipated bit of information. Fortunately, I 
practice a profession — paleontology — that 
is maximally supplied with superb test 
cases, for nothing can be quite so out-of- 
the-blue as a newly discovered fossil. 
Therefore, if we take a discovery that, in 
modern hindsight, points unambiguously 
toward the validity of a new worldview, 
we achieve our ideal test case: If everyone 
bows to the fact and accepts the imphed 
reconstruction of nature, then Huxley's 
dictum triumphs. But if most of the old 

guard manages to embrace the new t 
comfortably enough within its conv. 
tional worldview, then major changes f 
theory in science require a more compjt 
push involving social conte.xt as well'; 
factual impetus. 

In the early 1860s, as Darwin andDn 
debated evolution in their letters, the It 
possible example of a pristine and unani 
ipated fact burst upon the scene — the {■ 
covery of Archaeopteryx, not only the o 
est bird but also, apparently, so beautifl 
intermediate between reptiles and bird'i 
its retention of teeth, reduced coating- 
feathers, and basically reptihan anatoi 
Score one knockout blow for evolution 

Darwin, of course, read the discovery'^ 
exactly this sensible light. He wrote 
Dana on January 7, 1863: 

The fossil bird with the long tail and fing 
to its wings. . . is by far the greatest prod: 
of recent times. Tliis is a great case for mt 
as no group was so isolated as birds; and 
shows how little we knew what lived dun 
former times. 

But wait. The old fighter rises at I 
count of nine, he circles back, he fair 
the bell rings. He rests and recoups a 
comes out fighting for the next round. 
November, 1863, Dana pubhshed his re| 
to Archaeopteryx in an article entitled "( 
Parallel Relations of the Classes of Ver 
brates, and on Some Characteristics oft 
Reptilian Birds." Archaeopteryx, he pi 
claimed, provides no evidence for evol 
tion, but becomes instead the best possil 
discovery for validating his own creatior 
numerology of classification based • 

Since we are primates, and primates ; 
visual animals, we often epitomize c 
worldviews in iconographic form. A 
nothing can be quite so powerful as a p; 
ture for summarizing and sohdifying 
view of hfe. In his article, Dana presei 
the classification of vertebrates as a pictu 
and thereby upholds a crucial role for / 
chaeopteryx in completing the geometry 
divine numerology. As his diagram shov 
Dana wishes to classify each of the thi 
terrestrial classes — mammals, birds, ai 
reptiles — into his customary twofold di^^ 
sion of typical and hemitypic. In each ca 





hemitypic group should point toward 
interior class below. Mammals, ot' 
c rse, are on top. Ordinary placentals 
M the typical group, while marsupials 
1 the egg-laying monotremes (duck- 
I -d platypus and echidna) build the 
liirypic group below. He calls these 
Mitypic mammals "ooticoids" — and 
|- ' clearly point to birds and reptiles in 
1 r laying of eggs. 

i^eptiles also come in twos: the typical 
ces, turtles, Hzards, and others of that 
and the hemitypic frogs and salaman- 
i i among the amphibians. (We now 
■' sify amphibians as a separate class, but 
. )nomists of Dana's day often put all ter- 
rt rial coldblooded creatures together.) As 
h litypic egg-laying mammals pointed to 
tl reptilian class below, so also do hemi- 
f ic amphibians point to the fishes below 
ii heir initial aquatic phase of tadpole life, 
iut what about birds? Now Dana en- 
c inters a problem, and a threat to the nu- 
ll rical beauty of his system. Flying birds 
J clearly typical, but what birds can be 
c ed hemitypic? Hemitypes must point 
t the class below — in this case, to fishes. 
( le might label flightless ostriches and 
c us as heirdtypic, but in what possible 
\ y can these creatures be pointing to 
t les? On the contrary, their terrestrial life 
^ ins to point upward to mammals (or at 
I St sideward to reptiles) and therefore 
t eatens the entire system. Imagine, then, 
I na's delight in the discovery of Ar- 
'■ 'copteryx — for he could argue that its re- 
iition of teeth leads downward to the 
I mitypic shark, which, as Mack the 
I lite so pointedly noted, has "pretty teeth 
|»r, and he shows them pearly white." 
^ost gleefully, Dana therefore portrayed 
maeopteryx, the supposed and final mes- 
nger of evolutionary truth, as the salva- 
in of liis own numerological system of 
nation, {or AirlhU'optciyx — "erpetoids" in 
ma's terminology — stands forth as the 
issing hemitypic bird, and Dana's system 
comes healed and whole. He wrote: 

The discouerj' of the RcptiUan Birds has 
brought the general law to view, that, 
among the four classes of Vertebrates, ordi- 
narily received, each, excepting the lowest, 
consists of first a grand typical division, em- 
bracing the majority of its species, and sec- 

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ondly, an iiifehor or hemitypic division, in- 
termediate between the typical and tlie class 
or classes below. 

Dana actually drew two arguments 
against evolution from his new icon of ver- 
tebrate classification. First, as noted above, 
Archaeopteryx completed a numerical 
geometry' that could only arise by divine 
intent and imposition. Secondly, the orga- 
nization of fishes provides a further anti- 
Darwinian argument. Typical fishes are 
teleosts, the bony fishes that include al- 
most all modern species. But fishes also in- 
clude two hemits'pic di\dsions — with the 
crucial difference that fish hemit^'pes point 
upward toward the higher terrestrial verte- 
brates rather than downward. The hemi- 
t^fpic sliarks point to the hemitypic Ar- 
chaeopteryx and then up to t^fpical birds; 
and the hemitN'pic lungfishes point up to 
the hemit\'pic amphibians and thence to 
the t\-pical reptiles. 

The whole system is therefore rounded 
and complete within itself. The upper di- 
\asions point down through their hemi- 
typic groups; while the lower divisions 
point up through their own hemitypes. 
What else but a static and created order 
could be so self-contained and self-defin- 
ing? Dana concludes, with expHcit refuta- 
tion of Darwdn; 

It is plain from the preceding that the sub- 
kingdom of Vertebrates, instead of tailing off 
into the Invertebrates, has well-pronounced 
limits below, and is complete within itself. 
. . . We find in the facts no support for the 
Dani'inian hypothesis with regard to the 
origin of the system of life. 

This may be madness, as Darwin might 
have said, but it is surely Di\dne madness. 

Historians, like most decent people, 
tend to be patriotic. Dana was America's 
best, and who wants to saddle him with 
the reputation of an old fogey and holdout 
against the truth of evolution? Several 
scholarly articles have therefore focused 
upon Dana's belated, strictly minimal, and 
reluctant "conversion" to evolution — as 
first stated in the 1874 edition of his Man- 
ual of Geology and, two years later, in his 
last paper on cephahzation. Rather defen- 
sively, Dana then held (in the 1876 article 

on cephahzation) that evolution may 
become the preferred mode of change, 
that progress by cephahzation still 
the result. Dana seems to be saying soi 
thing hke; "I was right about what h 
pens, but perhaps not about how it h- 
pens. What happens is more importt 
anyway. Pattern reveals divine inte; 
mechanism is only a means to an end.' i 
his o\vn words: 

Wliatever the types of structure in course 
development, there was also a general siih 
dination in the changes to the principle oj 
cephahzation. . . . Tliese views may hoi 
whatever be the true method of evolution . 
Tlie method by repeated creations through 
communications of Divine power to natuft ->^ 
should he subordinated, as much as any i| 
other, to molecular law and all laws of » 
growth; for molecular law is the profound 
expression of the Divine will. . . . But tj 
present state of science Javors the I'iew of 
progress through the derivation of species 
pom species, with few occasions for Diviit 
intervention. If then there has been derii 
tion of species from species, we may beliet 
that all actual struggles and rivalries amoftss 
animals, leading to a "survival of the 
fittest," must tend, as in Man, to progi 
in cephahzation. 9--^ 

But we should not cite such grudg||ti 
passages as Dana's last hurrah and ultiiriB»H 
redemption — though traditional interp 
rations have followed this route. Suchi 
approach does great disser\dce to Daii 
powerfiil intellect, and perpetuates a s' 
doctrine of vahdation by redemption! 
late conversion to a current truth. D:|l3! 
made his minimal move toward evoluofc: 
in order to preserve as much as possibkfjbO 
his crumbling system, not as a zealcwlti 
born-again crusader who has fmaUy J 
the light. By owning evolution as a me(' 
anism. Dana could preserve his dee)' 
convictions about progress by cephali' 
tion. Dana's last hurrah for evolution w;i 
Httle blip, not the definition of his scii 
tific hfe. We should honor and respect 
for the power of his lifelong \-iew. ably £' 
honorably defended over decades, thovi 
now judged wanting. Surely, in sciencet 
is no sin to be \ATong for good reasons. 

If we dismiss those scientists now judti 

*fi«|g, only valuing them if they saw a late 

iFcIbHI we will miss a grand opportunity to 

ini^Hss one of the most elusive and por- 

us questions in scholarly life. What is 

jiature of genius? Why do some bril- 

people make revolutions and others 

|ii the dust of concepts whose time had 

a to pass in their own day? What is 

;rucial difference between Darwin's 

;endent greatness and Dana's merely 

ary greatness? (Ordinary greatness is 

,n oxymoronic concept, but a detini- 

[of old guards from Kircher to Dana.) 

lo not know the answer to this ques- 

bf questions, but we can surely specify 

ingredient. Somehow, for some rea- 

)f psyche or quirk of mind, some im- 

of social life or some drive of tem- 

ment, Darwin was driven to 

enge, to be fearless in bringing down 

l4 litire intellectual universe, to be joyful 

ying out each thrilling and lovely bit 

arniture in a reconstructed world. 

1, for other properties of the same at- 

ites, could not, or dared not, abandon 

traditional hope and succor of cen- 

s: "Rock of Ages, cleft for me,/Let 

te lide myself in thee." 

onsider, in closing, how the two men 
ed Plato, the greatest of all intellectual 
Dana just revered his name and his 
:ept of a permanent realm of ideahzed 
;ction. Darwin delighted in chaUeng- 
the master; in showing how simply, 
how elegantly, the new evolutionary 
/ could interpret and explain some of 
great mysteries and arcana of the ages. 
one comment, privately penned in 
of Darwin's youthful notebooks, after 
leturned to London on the Beagle, may 
ure the fundamental difference be- 
2n Darwin's flexibility and Dana's im- 
pility. With one line, Darwin cuts 
iUgh two thousand years of traditional 
(rpretation for ninate concepts of the 
an brain. They are not, he nearly 
Its for joy. manifestations of Platonic 
al ilutes transmitted from the ideal realm 
o irchetypes, but simple inheritances 
ti 11 our past: 

'Idlo sayi ill Phaedo that our "iieccsiaiy 
icas" arise from the preexistence of the 
Mil, and are not derivable from experience, 
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Egypt: Cruising 
:he Nile from 
Cairo to Aswan 

October 14 - 30, 1996 

Few places in the world possess such an 
extraordinary wealth of ancient archaeological 
sites as Egypt's Nile River. Join a team of 
specialists in Egyptian archaeology, Islamic 
architecture, and natural history on an exploration 
of the entire navigable length of the Nile. High- 
lights include Luxor, the Valley of the Kings, the 
Pyramids at Giza, Abu Simbel, Kom Ombo, Esna. 
and Dendera, as well as the great city of Cairo. 

Discovery Tours 
American Musemn of Nai 

Central Park West at 79th St., New York, N\ 10024 
Toll-free: 800-462-8687 New York: 212-769-5700 
Call for a complete list of destinations. 

Photograph by Yuzo Nakagawa 

In a midair maneuver, a long- 
taUed tit intercepts a nascent 
droplet. This bird and its ten 
flockmates. year-round resi- 
dents in Japan, live in a forest 
at the foot of Mount Fuji. 
Ever\- day, they follow a regu- 
lar foraging route, prving in- 
sects and spiders and an occa- 
sional larva fix)m the recesses in 
tree bark. The maple trees in 
the flock's small ■w.lnter terri- 
tor\- are favorite stops. By the 
end of Februarv; the sap is ris- 
ing and just begi nni ng to 
ooze from woodpecker- 
excavated tree holes and to fla- 
vor icicles that form near these 
natural taps. Both sources are 
prized by the tits, but the con- 
densed sap at the tip of the 
icicle is the sweetest. And 
while long-tailed tits are good 
hoverers, some may be more 
adept than others at feeding on 
the wing. At nine o'clock on a 
late February" morning, the sun 
was just beginning to loosen 
the ice and frozen sap, when 
the photographer captured the 
aerial precision of one bird 
that was rewarded with a taste 
of spring. — Judy Rice 

he ancient allure of^ 



By David A. Griinaldi 

Stone Age peoples were no doubt captivated 
by amber's smoothness, warm color and feel, 
translucence, and resinous fragrance when 
burned, as well as by the curious insects 
trapped within it and its abihty to attract bits 
of chaff and straw (because of its static 
charge). NeoUthic people carved amber into 
figures and symbols, which were worn as 
special charms. 

Its oldest and most contmuous use has 
been for adornment, yet amber is not a semi- 
precious stone or even a mineral; it is tree 
resin in fossilized form. Unhke other fossUs, 
which are usually mineral replacements of 
the original structure, amber is entirely or- 
ganic; over millions of years, its composition 
changes little from that of the resin that 
formed it. 

Amber is found in hundreds ot sites 
around the world, but the largest quantities 
come from 40-million-year-old deposits in 
the eastern Baltic region and from 25- to 30- 
million-year-old deposits in the Dominican 
Republic and Mexico. The deposits are al- 
most always found in sediments that tormed 
the bottom of ancient lagoons or river deltas. 

Aboi'c left: A dainsclfly 
aiimppcd ill 2 5-iinUion-ycar-old 
Doiiiiiiicaii amber 

Facing page: Carving of a man 
(ca. A.D. 900-1000) 
found in Denmark 

Left: \btitv axes carved from 
Baltic amber by a Neolithic 
people (ca. 2000 B.C.) 


Amber Dexterous 

The Amber Room in Rus- 
sia's Tsarskoye-Selo Palace 
outside of Saint Petersburg 
was a grand chamber made 
up of twelve intricately 
carved, amber mosaic wall 
panels. Originally created 
between 1701 and 1709 for 
the Prussian king Frederick 
I and given away by his son 
to Peter the Great in 1716, 
the amber panels were in- 
stalled in the Tsarskoye-Selo 
Palace in 1755. Two cen- 
turies later, when the Nazis 
occupied the area surround- 
ing Leningrad (Saint Peters- 
burg) in 1941, the room was 
dismantled, and an estimated 
six tons of amber paneling 
(valued at more than $150 
milUon) were shipped off to 
Germany. They were never 
seen again. 

Since 1979, a small group 
of Russian craftspeople have 
been trying to re-create the 
room, guided by a single 
color photograph (right), 
some black-and-white pho- 
tographs, fragments of 
amber paneling, and a few 
drawings. To date, about a 
quarter of the project has 
been completed. 

When two panels from 

A group of artisans work fever- 
ishly to re-create one of 
Russia's royal treasures — 
a fanciful chamber paneled with 
richly carved amber. 
By Alec Madoff 

the Amber Room, as well as 
twenty-two amber objects 
from the Tsarskoye-Selo 
Palace, were made available 
for the American Museum's 
exhibition "Amber; Win- 
dow to the Past," designers 
Gene Bergmann and Ger- 
hard Schlanzky and prepara- 
tor Laura Friedman and I 
met in Saint Petersburg for a 
few days to determine, 
among other things, how 
best to display them. On our 
first day at the palace, we 
documented the objects in a 
distant storage wing; then 
headed for the Amber 
Room, our feet strapped 
into big slippers made of 
carpeting to protect the 
hardwood floors en route. 
Once there, we measured, 
filmed, and photographed 
"our" two panels to be able 
to quickly reassemble and 
instaD them upon their ar- 
rival, slated to occur a few 
days before the exhibition 

opening in early February. 

The next day we were in- 
vited to visit the artisans in 
their cubicle-like work- 
shops. We watched baseball- 
sized chunks of raw amber 
being sliced into one- 
eighth-inch pieces on a spe- 
cial machine that resembled 
a small table saw. Various 
types of amber were used: 
clear or translucent amber; 
foamy amber, caused by a 
firoth of large bubbles; bone 
amber, marked by micro- 
scopic bubbles that give it a 
white to yellowish opaque, 
ivorylike color; and bastard 
amber, clouded by milky 
swirls and the most common 
of the opaque varieties. 

A number of the workers 
were grinding and polishing 
the pieces with Dremel 
tools — long, flexible shafts 
attached to a motor. Work- 
ing firom detailed, full-sized, 
painted renderings of the 
original panels, they cut out 
each shape of the mosaic. 
Once cut out and highly 
poHshed on special buffing 
wheels, the pieces joined 
thousands of others in a per- 
fectly aligned, elaborately 
carved jigsaw puzzle. Floral 

This is probably because the density of solid 
amber is just slightly less than that of water, 
so it is buoyant and is easily carried down- 
stream and cast up as beach drift along sea- 
coasts or in the shaUows of a river delta. Over 
time, sediments gradually bury the resin. 

Baltic amber, or "gold of the North," was 
collected, carved, and traded throughout 
Europe and Asia Minor. Baltic amber beads 
found in Mycenaean tombs of the Middle 
Bronze Age indicate its value in Greece and 

Asia Minor about 1500 B.C. Other finds in 
Greece, Crete, the Ionian Islands, Palestine, 
and Egypt also indicate widespread trade in 
the material (a recent study even suggests 
that a number of objects from the tomb of 
Tutankhamen are of Baltic amber). Between 
900 and 200 B.C., the Etruscans used amber 
extensively in jeweli-y and decorative objects, 
and the Romans revived the trade that had 
lapsed in the Greek period. 

In the fourth century B.C., Aristode rec- 

ognized that amber was petrified tree g,a 
The Roman historian Tacitus wrote in 
98 that beyond the land of the Goths (a 
manic people from lands bordering liei 
Roman Empire's northern frontier) Kved'ie 
Aestii people, who gathered amber (wl:h 
he called "exuded metal") that had la 
washed up by the Baltic Sea. Tacitus wasie 
first to conjecture that the amber forests \re 
remote from where the amber was found;!- 
though he did not understand that the anjer 



unimaginably ancient and the forests that 

produced it were extinct. 

bout 90 percent of Baltic amber has a 

concentration of succinic acid, leading 
>ecuIation about the kind of tree or trees 
might have exuded the local amber. Pine 
; in the genus Pscudolarix (found today 
• in Asia, Australia, and Chile), produce 
rinic acid, and 40-million-year-old 

dolarix cones that have been found in the 
adian Arctic's Axel Heiburg Island sup- 

port the idea that this tree may have once 
grown in the northernmost latitudes. Do- 
minican and Mexican amber was produced 
by a species of Hyz/io/dcu tree that is now ex- 
tinct. Some close relatives, however, still 
grow and produce resin in Central and South 
America and in the Caribbean. 

Most recently amber is attracting attention 
because of the window it provides into the 
past. Modern technology has revealed that 
the tiny organisms embalmed in amber have 

scrollwork, heraldic symbols, 
busts, or royal crests were 
worked into the design. On 
the clear amber sections, 
images were etched from 
the reverse side, and in some 
instances, gold foil was 
placed underneath to illumi- 
nate the design. 

By the time we boarded 
our flight back to New 
York, we had exact dimen- 
sions for each object's "foot- 
print," so that we could pre- 
pare the mounts for the 
display space. Even more 
important, we had been able 
to observe the amber-carv- 
ing process and could pre- 
pare a workspace in the ex- 
hibition area for the two 
Russian artisans who will be 
at the Museum for the first 
few weeks after the exhibi- 
tion opens. They will be 
cutting, pohshing, and tit- 
ting together a segment of a 
new panel, so visitors wiU 
have an opportunity to see 
the intricate craftsmanship 
involved in re-creating the 
Amber Room. 

Alec Madoffis n prcpiimtor 
ill the Miisciiiii's Exiiibiiioii 

been preserved to a remarkable degree. Soft 
tissues (such as muscles) and even cells, cellu- 
lar details, and DNA are preserved — intor- 
mation unobtainable from ,iny other tossil ot 
like age. 

Dawid A. Grimaldi is chairman and associate 
curator of the Miisciiin's Department oj Entomol- 
Oii)'. He is also cuiator-iii-charsc of the amber ex- 
hibition and the author of Amber: Window to 
the Past (Abraws/AMh'H). 


February Events 

February 1 

A new film, Stoniichasers, opens in the 
IMAX theater. It will explore the extremes 
of weather, from hurricanes to monsoons to 
tornadoes. Daily showtimes are 10:30 A.M. 
and 1:30 and 4:30 P.M. Stoniichasers may also 
be seen as part of the double feature on Fri- 
day and Saturday evenings at 6:00 and 7:30 
P.M. Continuing IMAX films are Destiny in 
Space and Titanica. CaU (212) 769-5200 for 
more information. 

February 5 

Jacklyn Green, the team leader of NASA's 
initiative to promote quickly developed, in- 
expensive space missions — called the New 
Millennium Program — will give a slide-il- 
lustrated talk about space exploration in the 
twenty-first century. The lecture, which is 
part of the "Frontiers in Astronomy and As- 
trophysics" series, will begin at 7:30 pm. in 
the Sky Theater. Tickets are $8 (S6 for 
members). Discounted tickets for the spring 
lecture series are also available. For intorma- 
tion about the Sky Show "Cosmic Mind 
Bogglers: A Tour of Astronomical Ex- 
tremes" and all other Hayden Planetarium 
events, caU (212) 769-5100. 

February 6 

As part of "Divine Magic: Lecture and Per- 
formance Series," the film Magic oftlie Mum- 
mies will be shown at 7:00 RM. Before the 
screening, Egyptologist Bob Brier will talk 
about the making of the film. CaU (212) 
769-5315 tor information. 

February 9 

In conjunction with the newly opened exhi- 
bition "Ainber: Window to the Past," David 
Grimaldi, chairman of, and associate curator 
\i-i, die Department of Entomology, will talk 
about the making of the exhibition at 7:00 
P.M. CaU (212) 769-5606 for information. 

February 1 5 

James Lovell, commander o{ Apollo 13 and 
author of Lost Moon, wiU speak about his 
experiences in the space program at 7:30 
P.M. For information, call (212) 769-5606. 

The Garden Cafe will be open bet' 
5:00 and 7:00 RM. with a prix fixe : 
CaU (212) 874-3131 for reservations. 

February 23 

Chinese carp scnlpted in Burmese amber 

Powwows around the country celebrati 
tive American traditions, which ch| 
with the times and strengthen ties 
and among different groups. An exhi] 
of about fifty photographs entided "' 
wow Now" will open in Akeley GaUer^"!! 
run through Sunday, May 26. j 


Throughout February, 

the Museum wiU celebrate Black Hi|ty 
Month by presenting the cultural tradi'^ 
of the African diaspora through lectjs, 
films, and music and dance programs, pi 
Ladji Camara and Les BaUets Africainslil 
present a Guinean folkloric dance pro^ji 
on Wednesday February 28, at 8:00 uk 
the Main Auditorium. The program, pa^f 
the series "Multicultural Mosaic: Tradiiios 
of a Diverse Society," is free with admiiiD 
to the Museum. For information, caU (;i 
769-5315. ; 

Tliese events take place at the American Mh 
senrn of Natural History, Central Park Wes 
79th Street in New York City For more inji 
mation about the Museum's hours and admi' 
sionfees, call (212) 769-5100. 

A model fin the i 
sided, free-stand' 
diorama in the 
anjher exhibitioi, 
A Museum tean 
spent two weeks 
in Costa Rica 
collecting materic 
for the reconstruif 
of this Tertiary \ 
Period, amber- \ 
producing fiorest i 
Hymenaea trees\ 

When Mrs. Garrison Teaches 

Tolerance, Her Students 

Really Eat It Ur 

The seventh graders in Barbara 
Garrison's EngUsh class learn a lesson in 
tolerance by joining in celebrations from 
around the world. Chinese New Year 
brings Good Luck Candy and lotus seeds. 
Burning incense marks the start of Ramadan, the Islamic 
Holy Month. At Kwanzaa time, an African-American festival, 
traditional foods are sampled, like "Hopping John" and ground 
nut soup. Mrs. Garrison hopes this taste of world culture will help her students become more 
respectful of other ways of life. 

For opening the minds (and mouths) of young people, and for confronting prejudices where 
they start. State Farm is pleased to present the Good Neighbor Award to Barbara Garrison of San 
Diego's Mar Vista Middle School, 
along with $5,000 to the 
educational institu- 
tion of her choice. 




H> Offices: Bloaminiiinn, Illinois 

The Good Neighbor Award 
was developed in cooperation 
with the National Council 
u( Teachers of EngUsh. 


On the white expanse of 
Antarctica's Filchner Ice Shelf, 
glaciologist Dr. Monica Kristensen 
watches as members of her team 
remove a ten- meter core sample from 
the ice. "By studying the different 
layers, we can see how the climate 
has varied and carbon dioxide 
levels ha\'e changed o\'er the past 
few hundred years," she says. 
The global warming trend 
caused by a rise in carbon dioxide 
and other greenhouse gases is among 
Dr. Kristensen's most pressing 
concerns. Many scientists fear 
that the increases in temperature 
brought about by such a rise 
will eventually cause the polar ice 
caps to start melting, raising sea 
levels everywhere. 

"It's difficult to get the public 

to focus on 
that may not 
become a 
problem for 
a few hundred 
years," she says. 
"So my mission 
right now" is 
to increase 
public awareness. People 
need to realize that the polar 
regions are an important 
part of the earth's climate 
svbteni. What 
happens there will 
affect all of us." 

Her research 
often takes her 

Natural history 
Received oni 01-26-96 
Ref 5. 06 (74. 7) Ml 

^^The earth's climate is like a 
giant puzzle, and the polar 
regions hold many of the clues/' 

Dt. Monica Kristensen 

to desolate stretches of the Antarctic, 

where she must remain for months at 

a time. Says Dr. Kristensen, "Because 

It takes more than 150 

operations to create the rugged 

Oyster case which is sculpted 

from solid stainless steel. 

ISktgold or platinum- 


D0'-7.2*F ni72"-J4.4'F 


Predicted increase in July temperatures after atmospheric 

CO; concentrations double- Calculations based on 
existing trends indicate this will happen bv the year 2030. 

the conditions here are harsh, my 
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fch 1996, 



.«.^«i**^ v> 'v^'^'" 





• ironment 


lals act broadly 
age fertility 
'ival of entire 
[n. Page 42 

Itolen Future: 

nilic Detective story 
3 Co/bom, ; 

elerson Myers, 



No purebred dog runs like the Alaskan husky ^^H 

<- — *' 


1 a r a t h n l\ 



The QosestYou Can Get To 
Heaven While Still On Earth 

From the cloud-shrouded peaks of 

the Himalayas to the pink city of 
Jaipur, from thousands of ancient tem- 
ples to the singular majesty of the Taj Mahal, 
India awakens the senses, quiets the mind and 
energizes the soul. So find out how the country Mark 
Twain called "paradise on earth" offers you the best of the 
ancient world and the twentieth century. Especially now: 
Air India's brand new fleet of Boeing 747-400s^«ill whisk 
you to our world in the greatest of comfort and speed. 
For your free India Travel Guide call your local travel 
agent or the Government of India Tourist 
Office: New York (212) 586-4901, Los Angeles 
(213) 380-8855, Toronto (416) 962-3787. And 
discover the journey of perpetual wonder. 

Call one of the numbers above or write to: 

MSI, 25-1 5 50th Street, 

Dept. NH396, Woodside, NY 11377 





March 1996 

Volume 105 

Number 3 

s Sights Unseen 

Last July, the U.S. Navy declassified satellite data 
providing complete views of the world's ocean 
basins. The new maps are helping to answer basic 
questions about how our planet's surface was created. 
Christopher Siiiall and Dm'id SaiidwcU 

4 The Making of a 
Marathon Mutt 

Alaskan huskies emerged from the genetic melting 
pot of northern breeds. While the Iditarod race 
in which they run — which begins this month 
in Anchorage — remains controversial, there is 
no question that these dogs possess an unmatched 
physical and mental toughness. Mark Derr 

2 Up Front: Silent Spring Continued 

4 Letters 

5 Contributors 

Natural Selections 

6 Book Review: Up from the Ashes 
Timothy Flannery 

8 Excerpt: Simian Sympathy Fmns de Waal 

9 Bookshelf Ten Picks for JVlarch 

10 CD-ROM: Howard Topoff 

1 1 Robert Anderson 

12 The Living Museum: My Father's Butterfly 

^j Alex Shotmiatoff 

A Natural History Exclusive Book Excerpt 

2 Hormonal Sabotage 

After amassing thousands of pages of research 
on abnormalities in growth, development, sexuality, 
and fertility among both wildlife and humans, 
researcher Theo Colborn became convinced that 
synthetic compounds found in pesticides and 
industrial chemicals were capable of upsetting the 
body's delicate hormonal balance. 

from Our Stolen Future, by Theo Colborn, John 
Peterson Myers, and Dianne Dumanoski 

16 Journal: Phantom Robert Boyle 

Cover: Alaskan huskies 

commonly have mismatched 

eyes. Although officially 

mongrels, the dogs have roots 

in arctic prehistory. 

Story oil pnge 34. PhotOfJiaph by 

P. Senders; Cainina Liaison. 

20 This 'View of Life: Microcosmos 
Stephen Jay Gould 

24 Worldbeat: Playing the Synthesizer 

Field Guide 

50 Discovery: When the Desert Was Green 

Gillian King 
55 Celestial Eventsjor Rao 
57 This Land Robert H. Mohlciibrocl-i 
60 Travel and Reading 

62 Universe: When a Star Is Not Born 
Ne[[(te^Grassc Tyson 

64 Science Lite: Tornado Watch 

Roger J]'clscli 

72 The Natural Moment: When Nature Calls 
Photograph hy Roger Eriksson 

-J. At the American Museum of Natural History 

'] 74 Democracy of Caring A/i»l'/. ]\'alters 

76 March Events 

JoAnti Bitrkholder 

her chapter on pesticides and 

Silent Spring Continued 

"Our fate is connected with the animals;' warned Rachel Carson m her 1962 
book Silent Spring. In this issue we present stories involving two scientists 
JoAnn Burkholder ("Phantom," page 16) and Theo Colborn ("Hormonal Sab- 
otage," page 42)— who have heeded Carson's admonition and. like her, worked 
tirelessly to bring their findings into the pubUc forum. 

Burkholder, an aquatic biologist at North Carolina State University, might 
have gone on to other studies after her discovery that a new species o f fish- 
killing dinoflageUate was living in coastal wa- 
ters and able to thrive in estuaries contami- 
nated by sewage and farm runoff. But when 
she realized that this microscopic organism 
could pose a threat to human, as well as estu- 
arine, health, she risked her reputation and 
the wrath of state regulators to make the pub- 
Uc aware of the immediate danger in increas- 
ingly polluted coastal waters. 

In her new book. Our Stolen Future (writ- 
ten with Dianne Dumanoski and John Peter- 
son Myers), Colborn, a senior scientist at the 
World WUdhfe Fund in Washington, D.C., 
has picked up where Rachel Carson left off. 
As coauthor Dumanoski points out, Carson 
focused on cancer in "Fable for Tomorrow,' 

human health in Silent Spring. Imagimng a future silenced by reproductive fail- 
ures, Carson wrote: "On the farms the hens brooded, but no chicks hatched. 
The farmers complained that they were unable to raise any pigs— the litters 
were small and the young survived only a few days." Carson, writes Du- 
manoski, did not pursue the clues that pesticides might impair reproduction by 
disrupting hormones. Colborn did. Analyzing and synthesizing evidence scat- 
tered through thousands of papers, Colborn began to see the connections 
among disparate studies— from reports of reproductive failures in minks fed a 
diet of Great Lakes fish to declining sperm counts m human males. 

Coauthor John Peterson Myers, for- 
mer senior vice president for science at 
the National Audubon Society and 
now director of the W Alton Jones 
Foundation, added his concerns over 
breeding failures among birds. The re- 
sult is the discovery of the underlying 
causes of the reproductive failures in 
wildlife that so alarmed Carson three 
decades ago. 

When I met Theo Colborn at a 
meeting of the Pew Foundation fel- 
lows last fall in Maine, she and Myers 
jln , I // were in the midst of making the final 

changes in the galleys of their book, 
which is excerpted in this issue. Their concerns were not pubhcity or media 
coverage. What they talked about was science: did new studies shed new Hght 
on what was in the book or change their conclusions? For these scientists, sci- 
ence was not just a way to describe the nature of phenomena, it was a way of 
looking at the world. They had results, they made conclusions, and then they 
took action. — Bruce Stutz 


The monthly magazine of the 
American Museum of Natural History 

Bruce Stutz 

Editor in CIneJ '■■ 

EUen Goldensohn 

Managing Editor 

Thomas Page 


Robert B. AndeKon 

Board of Editors 

Florence G. Edektein 
Rebecca B. Finnell 

Jenny Lawrence 
Vittorio Maestro 

Richard Milner 

Judy Rice 

Kav Zakariasen (Pictures) ] 

Maire Crowe 

Research Editor 

Lisa StiMman 

Associate Managing Editor 

Peggy Conversano 

Asst. Designer 

EUen Louise Smith 

Editorial Asst. 

David Ortiz 

Picture Coordinator 

Carol Barnette 

Text Processor 

Roland Schenk 

Editorial Consultant 

Rosalia Bonanni 

Design Assistant 

Linda C. Cherry 


Bari S. Edwards 

General Manager 

John Matthew Ravida 

Asst. to the Publisher 

Edward R. Buller 

Research and Business Matu 

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Consumer Marketing Directi 

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Direct Mail Manager 

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a little easier. 

Air. It fills every breath 
of every creature. That's why 
people have dedicated more 
than twenty years to developing 
some of the world's most 
environmentally responsible 
gasolines. Helping lead the 
way to cleaner air. For today 
and tomorrow. 

Do people clearly protect 
one thing we all share? 

People Do. 


fe. ,,^i^*":;'~\;i 


Letter^ ni 

H ■ s : f V 3 ' 9 6 

The Crime of Mendes 
da Costa 

In "The Anatomy Lesson" 
(December 1995), Stephen Jay 
Gould notes to his regret that 
he was unable to find much 
biographical information on 
Mendes da Costa and wonders 
what charges led to his impris- 
onment. A 1977 article by 
P. J. P. Whitehead in the Bul- 
letin of the British Museum (Nat- 
ural History) answers this ques- 
tion. Whitehead determined 
that Mendes da Costa had em- 
bezzled more than 100 sub- 
scriptions, reaching the then 
enormous sum of /^.\A92, 
firom the Royal Societs' of 
London. As he was the soci- 
ety's clerk, librarian, and 
keeper, Mendes da Costa had 
ample opportunity to commit 
such a crime. Therefore it was 
his mendacity and not, as sup- 
posed by Gould, "history's sad 
pattern of scapegoatingjews 
and other outsiders" that led 
to his imprisonment. 

Needless to say, the forego- 
ing does not detract from the 
value of Mendes da Costa's 
work, but it does serve to 
round out the picture that 
Gould has careflilly presented. 
Alan R. Kahat 
National Museum of Natural 
History, Washington, D.C. 

Stephen Jay Gould replies: 
/ ufrote in my original article that 
"I may well have missed some sec- 
ondary' sources" — and, as Kabat 
notes, indeed I did. Miitehead's 
■zXce'Jent work is, apparently, this 
(ei:uiry 'i c-nly article on Mendes 
da Costa (for Whitehead also 
laments the absence of any histori- 
cal note for this most interesting 
man). Whitehead wrote his article 
to address a subject not treated in 
my essay (the authorship and con- 
tent of Mendes da Costa's malaco- 
logical hooks), but I certainly ac- 
cept his evidetKe that Mendes da 

Can anyone rival the scuety of a Ficmh truffle hunter? 

Costa was guilty as charged. (I 
didn 't attempt to exonerate him in 
my essay, but merely wondered out 
loud about the case.) But the ac- 
tual story leaves me more confused 
than ever about a key fact that 
both Wliitehead and I docu- 
mented (and that left li'liitehead 
similarly puzzled): why did 
Mendes da Costa retain so many 
friends and so nntch support 
within the scientific community 
after his release from prison? (Tliis 
easy rehabilitation inspired my in- 
correct conjecture about his inno- 
cence.) I claim no great familiarity 
ivith eighteenth-century English, but I would not have 
imagined that generosity and for- 
giveness particularly characterized 
upper-crust society of the time. 
Were people more inclined to for- 
give and forget after a man served 
his "time" in prison? Were Jews 

then so rare in Britain that 
Mendes da Costa's intriguing ex- 
oticism overcame the malodor of 
his misdeeds? Or was Mendes da 
Costa just such a congenial and 
learned man — as his letters cer- 
tainly suggest — that he inspired a 
degree of forgiveness unusual at 
any time? I would be pleased to 
hear from historia}is and other ex- 
perts on this issue that so stroigly 
puzzled both Wliitehead and me. 

Top Secret 

I especially enjoyed the article 
on the French tniffiers Qanuan,' 
1996). Perhaps the desire to 
escape taxes adds to these truf- 
fle hunters' secrecy, but I 
know some hunters of morels 
(a dehcacy almost equallv 
prized by chefs in this coun- 
try) who are no less protective 
of their territories. 

Once a man showed me 
two bushel baskets, filled ti 
the brim with some of the 
best-looking morels I had 'er 
seen. I reacted: "Wow! 
Where 'd you find 'em?" It,'as 
the wrong thing to say. He 
gave me an icy stare. "Gotm 
here in Michigan," he said 

Two years later, when k 
wife told me the man had 
died, I asked her if she or ce 
of their sons would be har st- 
ing his patch now. 

"Oh, no," she said. "ErM 
never told anyone where it 
was, not even his family" 
Doug Fulton 
Tucson, Arizona 

Time and 
Tidal Forces 

I enjoyed NeO de Grasse 
Tyson's "Universe" essay 
"Tide and Time" (Novem r 
1995). I was confiised. hov 
e\'er, by Tyson's statement at 
doubling the Moon's distai; 
fi:om Earth would decreases 
tidal force on Earth by a fa or 
of eight. Usually gravitatiol 
forces decrease with the sq a 
rather than the cube of the, 
distance. Is there somethin; 
unique about tidal forces tl: 
causes distance to have a mre 
pronounced effect on theit' 

Wayne A. ]'an Voorhies 
Tucson, Arizona 

Neil de Grasse Tyson replii 
Tidal forces are computed fron 'n 
rate of change of gravity overc 
distance. It's easy to show witl 
calculus, and perhaps even eas< 
fo state, that the closer you mi' 
toward a source of gravity, the 
faster the gravity changes. Mai'- 
matically speaking, the rate oj 
change of a quantity that decrees 
as the square of the distance (sh 
as gravity) will always decreasi^ 
the cube of the distance. 


'orld Wildlife Fund 
ientist Theo Colborn 
Hormonal Sabotage") 
ined forces with John 
eterson (Pete) Myers 
hile on a two-year sab- 
itical at the W. Alton 
nes Foundation, where 
ologist Myers had re- 
ntly come on board as 
rector. Their coUabo- 
."ion led to "The 
I ingspread Statement," 
onsensus of promi- 
"if Int scientists whose re- 
i«i |irch substantiated the 
ft' i'vironmental threat 
sed by hormone- 
• -rupting chemicals. In 
'93, Colborn invited 
ston Ghhc environ- 
; .'iital writer Dianne 
( manoski to help her 
M'. |d Myers realize a 
Si) ^ig-planned book pro- 
lovKi t. Although Du- 
iM iMioski had never writ- 
:«« A a book before, she 
s(fe:i:epted without hesita- 
ecKiitin: "It was hke Rachel 
l)yii<|rson asking me to 
inK\lite the next Silent 
k<^'ing." Despite coming 
iiK f 111 different pursuits 
iwtiidii specialties, the three 
oRfcH'e worked exception- 
Hiiaj' well together, which 
,ntli(it|y attribute to their 

sred goal of commu- 
,,, 1 .iting something of 
ij'iound importance to 
t! public. 

In his teens, Roger Eriks- 
son ("When Nature 
Calls") developed an ap- 
preciation for wildlife 
while banding birds for 
the Fish and Wildlife 
Service. Today most of 
the photographs he takes 
are of birds near his 
home in rural Michigan, 
hut he photographed the 
Sally Lightfoot crab for 
this month's "Natural 
Moment" in the Galapa- 
gos, using a Canon A2E 
with a 35-350 mm L 
zoom lens and Fuji 
Velvia film. 

IVIark Derr ("The Making of a Marathon Mutt") is 
the author of three books, two on Florida and one 
on Davy Crockett. He is currently working on a 
new book entitled Just Dogs: Annals of the Dog- 
Human Relationship. In the March 1995 issue of the 
Atlantic Monthly, Derr published an article on the Id- 
itarod Trail Sled Dog Race and the aninial-weltarc 
controversy surrounding it. 

Christopher Small 

("Sights Unseen") re- 
ceived his Ph.D. from 
Scripps Institution of 
Oceanography in 1993 
and is currently a geo- 
physicist at the Lamont- 
Doherty Earth Observa- 
tory at Columbia 
University. When he is 
not at sea conducting 
geophysical surveys in 
the Southern Ocean, he 
lives in New York City. 
David Sandwell, who 
coauthored the article, is 
an associate professor at 
Scripps who has played 
a major role in getting 
the Geosat ocean-floor 
data declassified. 

A writer, naturalist, and 
collector of butterflies in 
his fimily's tradition, 
Alex Shoumatoff ("My 
Father's Butterfly") lives 
in New York State's 
Adirondack Mountains. 
He is currently a con- 
tributing editor to Vanity 
Fair magazine. His tenth 
book, Legends cj the 
Desert, will be published 
by Knopf next winter. 

Robert H. Boyle ("Phan- 
tom") lives in Cold 
Spring, New York, 
where he serves as presi- 
dent of the Hudson 
Riverkeeper Fund. He 
was a senior writer for 
Sports Illustrated for three 
decades and is currendy 
revising his 1969 book, 
Tlic Hudson River: A 
Natural and Unnatural 

Gillian King ("When the Desert Wis Green ) 
attributes her fascination with dicynodouLs to 
Oxford teacher Tom Kemp. Currendy on the 
faculty at Cambridge University, King was 
formerly head of the division of earth sciences at 
the South African Museum in Cape Town, near 
the world's best dicynodont hunting grounds. "I 
love fossOs as beautiftil objects." says King, "but also 
as a context for talking to people about things 
other than my research — museums, the 
environment, and themselves." 

Natufal Selections Nalucal History 3/9- 

up From the Ashes 

Krakatau: The Destrucrion and Reassem- 
bly of an Island Ecosystem, by Ian Thorn- 
ton. Haivard University Press, $39.95; 320 
pp., illtis. 

By Timothy Flaiiiieiy 

Review I stiU remember the horror 
and fascmation 1 felt when, at 
age mne, I read about the August 1883 
eruption of Indonesia's Krakatau volcano. 
Those memories came flooding back 
when I opened Ian Thornton s compelling 
book on the destruction and reassembly of 
the island. The Krakatau explosion — 
10,000 times as powerfiil as the Hiroshima 
bomb — generated air waves that traveled 
around the world four times. The loudest 
sound ever heard, it was mistaken for a dis- 
tant cannon by people in central Australia 
and Ceylon, yet an eerie silence enveloped 
those near the epicenter, as clouds ot dust 
absorbed all sound. 

Most terrifying to me as a child was the 
idea of the great tsunami, a wave as high as 
a seven-story building, that advanced on 
the coasts of the Sunda Strait at the speed 
of an express train. Although it was mid- 
morning, vast clouds of ejecta blotted out 

the sun. The darkness was to last for fifty- 
six hours. At least 35,000 people, en- 
veloped in total darkness and near-total si- 
lence, were swept to their death. Human 
skeletons, carried on vast rafts of pumice, 
washed ashore on Africa's east coast a year 

"Two-thirds of Krakatau Island, origi- 
nally 11 kilometers [6.6 miles] long and 
clothed in tropical rain forest, disap- 
peared," author Ian Thornton writes. 

Tlie southern half of what had been its 
southern volcano, Rakata, was left standing. 
The Rakata remnant and its two dose 
neighbors, Sertiing and Panjang, were 
enlarged by a cover of ash at temperatures of 
hundreds of degrees centigrade to depths of 
tens of meters. It is thought that not a 
plant, not a blade of grass, not a fly 
suriHved after the thick blanket of hot ash 
had settled on the three islands. 

Nine months after the eruption, the 
only sign of hfe obser^'ed by a visitor was a 
"solitary very small spider; this strange pi- 
oneer of revival was in the process of spin- 
ning its web!" 

Three years after the eruption, ferns had 

colonized the island, a few species dom 
nating the flora. Paleobotanists, who stuc 
the earth in the period of the first fe 
thousand years foOowing the great extinc 
tion of the Cretaceous era have found th 

Enipticns from Krakatan's submarine caldcra formed the island cfAnak Krakatau CKrakatau's 

child"), foreground. How plants colonize bare lava flows, right, may reveal similar processes that 
followed the Cretaceous and other great extinctions. 


ingle fern species seemed to dominate 
restrial plant communities at that time 
I. Could Krakatau have something to 
ch us about this most fascinating of pre- 
;oric catastrophes? 

Thornton, a zoologist at La Trobe Uni- 
sity, in Bundoora, Australia, has earned 
lecial place in the study of the recolo- 
idon of Krakatau by plants and animals, 
ce the mid-1980s, he and his team have 

been studying the Krakatau biota and have 
made many original contributions, of 
which this book is not the least. Thornton 
brings to the project a long history of re- 
search into ecological questions relevant to 
the Krakatau story (he has devoted the past 
forty years of his life to studies in ecology, 
especially those involving competition be- 
tween invertebrates). This long experience 
shines through in this, his latest work. 

As a fellow Australian, I was struck by 
his documentation of the relatively large 
number of early colonizers that are of Aus- 
tralian origin. Krakatau is well within Asia, 
lying some 750 miles west of Wallace's 
Line — a zoogeographic boundary running 
between Bali and Lombok, west of which 
plant and animal hfe originating from the 
Australian region are usually not abundant. 
Yet the nitrogen-fixing casuarinas, which 
are undoubtedly of Austrahan origin, were 
among the first trees to colonize there. 
Such typically Australian birds as white 
eyes (Zostewps), whistlers {PachyceplKila) 
and wood-swallows (Artamus), were early 
arrivals, while a monitor (a member of the 
lizard family Varanidae, which are abun- 
dant in Australia) was one of the very first 
colonists. One wonders whether adapta- 
tion to the nutrient-poor, dry, relatively 
open environments which typify AustraHa 
have somehow preadapted various species 
to colonization of even more barren areas 
such as cooling ash beds and lava flows. 

The study of Krakatau certainly has 
much to teach us about life on the world's 
islands. The nomadic and more widely 
ranging fruit bats arrived there in advance 
of insectivorous bats and still make up a 
greater proportion ot the fauna. This mir- 
rors precisely what I found when studying 
the bats of the islands of the southwest Pa- 
cific. Fruit bats make up between 50 and 
100 percent of the bat fauna of the oceanic 
islands (as compared to less than 30 percent 
on New Guinea, Australia, and mainland 
Southeast Asia). 

The numerous problems faced by colo- 
nizing species are succinctly put in this 
book particularly in the chapter deaUng 
with the establishment of figs. Almost all 
of the world's 800 to 900 fig species have 
their own unique wasp poUinator species. 

The dynamics of fig fruiting therefore re- 
quire that a substantial population of trees 
must lie within the reach of wasps before 
successful seeding can take place. The 
story of how the trees meet these condi- 
tions is a fascinating one. 

Equally intriguing, if a trifle unsatisfy- 
ing, is the story of why dioecious figs 
(which have functionally male and female 
trees) have fared so well in comparison 
with monoecious ones (which have male 
and female flowers on the same tree). As 
Thornton points out, one would expect 
that monoecious trees would be better 
colonizers, given that they can potentially 
produce twice the amount of fruit that 
dioecious species can. Dioecious species 
are thought to have been successfiil be- 
cause they fare better in seasonal environ- 
ments, such as Krakatau's. But why, one is 
left wondering, has not a monoecious spe- 
cies of fig adapted to highly seasonal envi- 
ronments (alternating between rainy and 
dry seasons), and thus had the best of both 

Until I read this book, I was largely un- 
aware of the enormous contribution to 
zoogeography made by Dutch scientists 
such as Karl WUlem Dammerman, whose 
1948 monograph culminated two decades 
of study of Krakatau's zoology. One of the 
joys of the volume is the appended section, 
"Biographical Notes," which gives brief 
biographies of the more important scien- 
tific players in the documentation and 
analysis ot Krakatau's evolving biota. 

For more than a hundred years, scien- 
tists have passed on the baton of Krakatau 
research to new generations of scientists. 
From the irritable, deskbound polemicist 
to the tenacious fieldworker, each has had 
a part to play. But no one person has been 
able to answer the larger questions in a 
lifetime, because the reconstruction of the 
island biota proceeds over a much longer 
time scale. This book provides a wonderful 
compendium of past and present research 
and presents ideas as to fijture efforts. 

Tiinotliy Flannery is principal researdi scientist 
at the Australian Museum in Sydney and au- 
thor of the recently published book The Future 

,Ntt tfrra-r^e'fe ct to ri s 

Simian Sympathy 

Iti Good Natured: The Origins of Right 
and Wrong in Humans and Other Ani- 
mals, ethologiit-primatoloaist Fraiis de Waal, 
who works at the Yerkes Regional Primate 
Research Center in Atlanta, Georgia, explores 
the extent to which requisites of morality can 
be recognized in other animab, particularly in 

The sociobiological idiom 
Ss almost derisive in its 
characterization of animals. Outsiders ma\ 
be shocked to learn that current scientific 
literature routinely depicts animals as 
"suckers," "grudgers," and "cheaters" who 
act "spitefiilly," "greedily," and "murder- 
ously." If animals do show tolerance or al- 
truism, these terms are often placed in 
quotation marks lest their author be 
judged hopelessly romantic or naive. Posi- 
tive inclinations tend to receive negative 
labels. Preferential treatment of relatives. 
for instance, instead of being called "love 
for kin," is sometimes referred to as 

As noted by economist Robert Frank 
(referring to a problem common to the 
behavioral sciences): 

Tlie flint-eyed researcher fears no greater 
humiliation than to have called some action 
altruistic, only to have a more sophisticated 
colleague later demonstrate that it was self- 
serving. This fear surely helps account for 
the extraordinary volume of ink behavioral 
scientists have spent trying to unearth selfish 
•ecmingly self-sacrificing acts. 

As a .student of chimpanzee beha\dor, 1 
myself have encountered resistance to the 
label "reconciliation" for firiendly reunions 
between former adversaries. Actually, I 
should not have used the word "friendly" 
either, "atFiliative" being the accepted eu- 
phemism. More than once I was asked 
whether the term "reconciliation" was not 
overly anthropomorphic. Whereas terms 
related to aggression, \-iolence, and com- 

Arc close relationships between unrelated primates friendships"? Biologists using such terms iiu 
court ridicule from colleagues. 

petition never posed the sUghtest problem, 
I was supposed to switch to dehumanized 
language as soon as the affectionate after- 
math of a fight was the issue. A reconcilia- 
tion sealed with a kiss became a "post- 
conflict interaction involving mouth- 
to-mouth contact." 

Primatologist Barbara Smuts ran into 
the same resistance when she chose 
"friendship" as an ob\-ious label for inti- 
mate relationships between adult male and 
female baboons. "Can animals really have 
friends?" was the question of colleagues 
who, without blinking, accepted that ani- 
mals have rivals. Given this double stan- 
dard, I predict that the word "bonding" 
will soon become taboo as well, even 
though it was initially coined by etholo- 
gists as a neutral reference to emotional at- 
tachment. Ironically, the term has since 
entered common EngHsh with preciselv 
the meaning it tried to circumvent, as in 
"mother-child bond" and "male bond- 

ing." It is rapidly becoming too loaded t 
students of animal behavior. 

Animals, particularly those close to i 
display an enormous spectrum of em 
tions and different kinds of relationships, 
is only fair to reflect this fact in a bro 
array of terms. If animals can have en 
mies, they can have friends; if they c 
cheat, they can be honest; and if they c;- 
be spitefijl. they can also be kind and altr- 
istic. Semantic distinctions between aninl 
and human beha\dor often obscure fiinc- 
mental similarities; a discussion of moral' 
wiU be pointless if we allow our langua.i 
to be distorted by a denial of benign m- 
tives and emotions in animals. 

An intriguing expression of emoti i 
occurred once when, in the middle oft; 
day, our entire chimpanzee colony une- 
pectedly gathered around an older, hig- 
ranking female named Mai. All the afi 
were silent, staring closely at Mai's behir. 
some of them carefiilly poking a finger: 


The Thread of Life 

By Susan Aldridge (Cambridge University Press, 1996, $24.95) 

Biochemist Aldridge tells the still unfolding story of DNA — "the stuff that genes 

are made of." 

and then smeUing their fingers. Mai was 

inding half upright with her legs slightly 

lart, holding one hand between her legs. 

emarkably, an attentive older female, 

imed Atlanta, began to mimic Mai by 

ipping her hand between her own legs in 

.actly the same fashion. 

After approximately ten minutes, Mai 

ised, squatted more deeply, and passed a 

by, catching it in both hands. The crowd 

rred, and Atlanta, Mai's best friend, 

lerged with a scream, looking around 

d embracing a couple of other chim- 

nzees next to her, one of whom uttered 

hrill bark. Mai then went to a corner to 

■an the baby and consumed the after- 

th with gusto. The next day Atlanta de- 

ided Mai fiercely in a fight, and during 

c following weeks she frequently 

Domed Mai, staring at and gently touch- 

: ; Mai's healthy new son. 

'This was the first time I had witnessed a 

1 impanzee birth. But I have seen several 

I icaque births, and the big difference is 

1 It other macaques do not approach the 

I ither and there is no obvious excite- 

I 'lit or curiosity about the delivery. 

f icaques are extremely attracted to new- 

1 ms, but positive interest occurs only 

. :\' the amniotic sac has been removed 

•' i the infant has been cleaned. Our 

t nipanzees responded much eariier; they 

s nied as much taken with the process as 

\ h its outcome. It is entirely possible that 

t emotional reacdon of Adanta (who has 

1^ i quite a few infants of her own) re- 

fited empathy — that is, identification 

\' h, and understanding of what was hap- 

P ling to her friend. 

^ieedless to say, empathy and sympathy 
;i pillars of human morality. 

t rrpted froiii Good Matured: The Origins 
••' Right and Wrong in Humans and 
*■ ler Animals, by Frans dc IVnul, to be pub- 
'' ■(/ this iiioiitli /))' Harvard University Press. 
! m996 by Fraiis B. M. de Waal. All rights 
K'-ped. Reprinted by permission. 

The Sixth Extinction 

By Richard Leakey and Roger Leivin (Doubleday, 1995, $24.95) 

Leakey and Lewin discuss five catastrophic mass extinctions in Earth's history — 

and predict a sixth. 

Aging and Old Age 

By Richard A. Posner (Tlie University of Chicago Press, 1995, $29.95) 

Age discrimination, assisted suicide, and other issues related to our aging society 

are explored from legal, pohtical, and social angles. 

The Earth Dwellers 

By Erich Hoyt (Simon and Schuster, 1996, $24.00) 

Hoyt follows myrmecologists E. O. Wilson and WiOiam Brown, Jr., into the field 

and reports on their studies of ant social behavior. 

The Enchanted Amazon Rain Forest 

By Nigel J. H. Smith (University Press of Florida, 1996, $29.95) 

In his chronicle of the river's people. Smith records the legends associated with 

the area's flora and fauna. 

The Value of Life 

By Stephen R. Kellert (Island Press, 1996, $24.95) 

KeUert argues that our well-being is threatened by a failure to recognize our 

fundamental physical, emotional, and intellectual dependence on nature. 

Coming of Age with Elephants 

By Joyce Poole (Hyperion, 1996, $24.95) 

This memoir describes Poole's fascination with elephants, which began at the age 

of six in East Africa and deepened during her years studying elephants in Kenya. 

American Plastic 

By Jeffrey I. Meikle (Rutgers University Press, 1995, $49.95) 

The invention of plastic, its part in consumer culture, and the 

problems it has generated are explored in this history. 

The Next 500 Years 

By Adrian Berry (IV H. Freeman and Co., 1996, $22.95) 

"Man is made and remade by his tools," says "fiaturist" Berry, as he einisions 

everything hom firming the sea to tapping water resources on asteroids. 

The Sierra Club Desert Reader 

Edited by Gregory McNamee (Sierra Books, 1995, $16.00) 

This collection of writing about deserts features Marco Polo, Charles Darwin, 

Theodore Roosevelt, Edith Wharton, Edgar Allan Poe, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. 

The Last 

Silver of 




Legendary 1890-1911 
Silver "Dragon" Dollars 

Historic treasures 

from the romantic silk-and- 
spice "Chiiia Trade" era, these 
magnificent silver "Dragon" 
dollars were the last issued 
under the Ch'ing dynasty in 
the twilight of Imperial China. 
Their high silver content 
matched the largest silver trade 
dollars of Western nations, and 
their intricate Dragon design 
symbolized bounty and China's 
ancient culture. Only a tiny 
fraction has survived China's 
turbulent 20th century. Interna- 
tional Coins & Currency, Inc. 
is offering certified-authentic 
1890-1911 silver "Dragon" 
dollars of China for only $49 
each, 5 for $225 or 10 for $395. 
Order #6702. Each Fine quality 
big 39mm coin contains 27 gms. 
of .900 silver. There are slight 
variations in the Dragon 
design. Add $2 for postage. 
Money-back guarantee — 
3G-day home examination. To 
order by credit card, call toll- 
free at any time. Or send a 
check or money order to: 
International Coins & Currency 
62 Ridge St., Box 218, Dept. 3395 
Montpelier, Vermont 05601 

Serving collectors i 

for 21 years 3395 

Coffee Table World 

By Howard Topoff 

C D - R IVI Forget about mainframe 
and laptop computers. 
What the world desperately needs is a cof- 
fee-table computer incorporating a built- 
in, face-up monitor that swivels. Arriving 
guests sit on the sofa, leisurely viewing the 
latest CD-ROMs while you put the fin- 
ishing touches on dinner. And my vote for 
the first coffee-table CD-ROM goes to 
National Geographic's Picture Atlas of the 
World. With a cHck of the mouse, this elec- 
tronic atlas is your guide to exploring vir- 
tually every continent, ocean, and nation. 
Pick a subject: the literacy rate of the Re- 
public of Mali, the national flag of Liecht- 
enstein, the metallic sounds of a steel drum 
band in Tobago. This CD-ROM has just 
about everything you would expect from 
an outfit like the National Geographic So- 
ciety: it's global, comprehensive, and 
flaunts more than 1,200 exquisite pho- 
tographs. The audio segments treat you to 
samples of music from around the world 
and to native speakers who greet you in 
more than 100 languages. 

Embedded in this vast multimedia data- 

bank is some serious geographical sci- 
ence — as seen, for example, in pictures de- 
picting archeological sites — accompanied 
by extensive text. The animation segment 
Mapping Our World gives budding car- 
tographers a lesson accurately projecting 
lines of latitude and longitude from a 
spherical globe onto a two-dimensional 
map. (The commonly used Mercator pro- 
jection, which exaggerates the sizes of 
continents and smaller landmasses in polar 
latitudes, still provokes school children to 
ponder whether Greenland is really larger 
than the United States.) 

If you're first on your block to install 
Picture Atlas of the World on a coffee-table 
computer, be prepared for a slight adjust- 
ment of your social schedule. With more 
than 800 interactive political and physical 
maps to peruse, your dinner guests would 
do well to arrive no later than 1 1:00 A.M. 

Howard Topoff is a professor of psychology at 
CUNY's Hunter College and a research associ- 
ate in the American Museum's Department of 

Keeping an Eye 
on Planet Earth 

By Robert Anderson The Internet offers a 
multitude of new ways 
to observe our planet, some of them in real 
time. Earth Week (http://www.slip 
.net/~earthenv/), a "diary of the planet," 
displays a map of the world with icons that 
you can click on to learn more about cur- 
rent volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, 
floods, hurricanes, and assorted other nat- 
ural and nianmade disasters. 

For net browsers who want more details 
on our planet's geologic inner workings, a 
number of sites in the "shake and bake" 
category highlight current events. Some 
sites give information on earthquakes 
shortly after they occur, but the one main- 
tained by the United States Geologic Sur- 
vey ( also ofiers 
some interesting news on efforts to de- 
velop earthquake warning systems and to 
assess earthquake hazards. Volcano World 
is a great source for news about recent 
eruptions as well as the histories of hun- 
dreds of our planet's active volcanoes. 
Travelers who like to see geology in action 
might check here before planning their 
next trip. 

Another fun site (because you never 
know what wiU be featured) is NASA's 
Observatorium (http://observe.ivv.nasa 
Every week it presents a new observation 
about the earth — and occasionally the 
sky — and hsts great sources for more infor- 
mation on the weekly topic. Earth Viewer 
planet.html) gives a perspective on our 
planet from the the sun, moon, or various 
artificial satellites at the time you log-on. 
To see the latest images of the niidocean 
ridges, including a movie that allows you 
to "fly" over the ocean floor, try http://im- 
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Robert Anderson is an editor at Natural His- 

Hand-Painted Papyrus Brings 
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© Copyright 1996, LUXOR ART. Inc. 


July 25 - August 9, 1996 

There is no experience quite like sleeping under canvas in the African bush. And 
there is no place like East Africa for magnificent herds of game and sublime scenery. 
This summer, a Museum anthropologist will lead a safari— one specially designed to 
meet the diverse needs of families— to the national parks of Kenya and Tanzania. 
From the magical Ngorongoro Crater to the lush plains of the Maasai Mara. East 
Africa is an ideal place to enjoy the continent's natural beauty and diversity and to 
appreciate cultures other than our own. 

Discovery Tours 
American Museum of Natural Histoiy 

Central Park West at 79th St., New York, NY 10024 

800-462-8687 or 212-769-5700 

Call for a complete list of destinations. 

T h e Li V i PI ,g'- :M-u s e .u m I'm a, u ra i 

History . 3/9 6 

iMy father's 


By Alex Shoimatqff 


Nicholas Shoumatoj: the author's father, hunting Imtteiflics in Jamaica about 
Top: The Shoumatojf's hairstreak, named for him. 


The display case slid out easily from the tall 
metal cabinet in the American Museum's 
Department of Entomology, and there 
they were — two small butterflies with 
shiny azure wings. My father had caught 
them on the island of Jamaica in 1933. Ten 
years later, two of the departments taxon- 
omists, William P. Comstock and E. Irving 
Huntington, described a new subspecies 
based on these butterflies and named it 
Thecla celida shoumatoffi, or Shoumatoff's 
hairstreak, after my father. Only fifteen 
years old when he netted the specimens, 
my father was spending a month on the is- 
land, collecting butterflies and moths with 
his uncle Audrey Avinoff. The director of 
the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 
a trustee of the American Museum, and an 
avid lepidopterist, Avinoff was once a gen- 
deman-in-waiting to Czar Nicholas. Be- 
fore the revolution, he had amassed an 
enormous collection of mainly Russian 
and Central Asian butterflies — some 
eighty thousand specimens. The collection 
was impounded by the Bolsheviks and is 
now at the Zoological Museum in Saint 

As Avinoff would later put it, Jamaica 
had been "a dreamland of tropical splen- 
dor" since his boyhood, when he vainly 
scrutinized magazine illustrations of the is- 
land with a magnifying glass, looking for 
butterflies. Later, as an exile in the New 
World, he made six trips to Jamaica be- 
tween 1926 and 1940, five of them with 
my father. The two caught more than 
fourteen thousand "bots," as butterflies 
and moths are known in Jamaican patois, 
doubling the number of known species on 
the island to more than a thousand. By day, 
they dashed around with their tulle nets, 
pith helmets wrapped in white pongee, 
pockets bulging with cyanide jars, and 

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canvas le^jngs to keep off chi^ers and 
ticks. On overnights in the bush, they slept 
on cots under canopies of mosquito net- 
ting. Once a week, they wotild put in at 
one of the better hotels. 

One evening, with a deft presto, my dad 
snagged a noctuid moth that had been 
dive-bombing a bullet-headed Britisher, 
and even'one in the dining room ap- 
plauded. (The presto was my fathers term 
for catching a butterfly in midair, as op- 
posed to an adagio, which to him meant 
sneaking up on resting quarry.) 

Avinoffs fascination ■with butterflies 
w=as not just scientific; he also made ex- 
quisite, minute, true-to-Ufe w^tercolors of 
them. Our house in Bedford, an hour 
north of New York City, was filled with 
his flower and butterfly paintings, and as a 
boy in the fifties, I carried on the family 
tradition by catching, mounting, and 
painting local butterflies. 

My father, an engineer, was president of 
the New York Entomological Societ^T 
which met at the American Museum. I re- 
member being taken there, gaping at out- 
rageously gaudy tropical butterflies, and 
meeting C\Til F. dos Passos, a research as- 
sociate and a cousin of the novelist John 
Dos Passos. He w^as an authority on the 
rules of zoologial nomenclature and wrote 
many papers on the subject. C\"ril dos Pas- 
sos died three months short of his hun- 
dredth birthday in 1986. 

Vladimir Nabokox?, another Russian 
emigre butterfly lover, was a fi-equent \Tsi- 
tor to the Museum, althougji I never met 
him. He specialized in the blues, cousins 
of the hairstreaks, and would come in to 
study the specimens. (I have his 1949 
monograph on the neotropical blues, in- 
scribed to AvTnoff in CyriUic.) A Haitian 
skipper was named for him. One of his 
poems, "On Discovering a Butterfly," 
reads in part: 

I found it and I named it, being versed 
in taxoiwmic Latin; thus became 
godfather to an insect and itsjirst 
describer — and I want no otherfame. 

Wide open on its pin (tSiough fast asleep), 
and safefioni creeping relatives and rust, 
in tlie secluded stronghold where we keep 
type specimens it will transcend its dust. 

Dark pictures, thrones, the stones that 

pilgrims kiss, 
poems that take a thousand years to die 
but ape the immortality of this 
red label on a little butterfly. 

Bernard Heineman succeeded my fa- 
ther as president of the Entomological So- 
ciet\?. In 1972, he coauthored a sumptu- 
ous, color-plated book, faniaica and Its 
Butterflies, in which he mentions twenty- 
one locahties for ShoumatoQ^s hairstreak. 
Three years later, Norman D. Riley, in his 
Field Guide to the Butterflies of tlie West In- 
dies, described the butterfly as "rare and 
local, chiefly met with in open upland 
country." According to Kurt Johnson, a 
systematist who is a research associate in 
the Museums Department of Entomol- 
ogy Shoumatoff's hairstreak is extremely 
sedentarx^: "If its amniiing like the other 
celidas, it rarely strays more than a few me- 
ters from its food plant, but nothing is 
known of its specific natural history. Some 
of these hairstreaks are so secretive, they 
are only knowTi firom dead specimens col- 
lected finm spider webs." 

In 1971, when I was tw^enty-four, I 
spent a month exploring Jamaica. I kept an 
eye out for Shoumatoff's hairstreaks, but 
the onlv ones I saw were on pins in display 
cases at the Jamaica Instimte in Kingston. 
In the years that follov\"ed, I made dozens 
of trips to the tropics. 

Sometimes I would stop by the Ameri- 
can Museum with butterflies I had caught. 
The last time I did so, my tw'o sons and I 
were on the w^y home fiTom Madagascar, 
and we shov\?ed Fred Rindge, the curator 
of Lepidoptera, a swallowtail with lumi- 
nous green wing bars we had netted in a 
guUy. It turned out to be a Papilio mau- 
goura, a specimen now being made scarce 
by habitat destruction. 

Rindge retired in 1990, but he still 
comes in four days a week finm his home 
in New Jersey. When I dropped in one re- 
cent morning, he w?as dissecting (under a 
microscope) the genitalia of geometrid 
moths, "the group I have specialized in for 
lo these decades," he explained. The 
geometrids, best knowTi in their larval 
stage — ^inchworms — ^are one of the "big 
three" famiUes of moths, with an esti- 
mated t\vent\f thousand species. There are 

about ten times more moths than there are 
butterflies (the true butterflies, or PapU- 
ionoidea, number about 14,500 species 
w^orldwide), and the moths account for 
most of the Museums roughly two million 
specimens of Lepidoptera. The collection 
is surpassed only by that of the British Mu- 
seum (Namral History;') and is on a par 
with those of the Carnegie Museum and 
the Smithsonian Instimtion. The depart- 
ment was thriving, Rindge told me. It has 
seven curators now, more than ever before, 
and has become a leading force in research. 

I also met Jim Miller, the current cura- 
tor of Lepidoptera. "My guys," as he called 
the group he specializes in, "are day-fl\ing 
noctuoids knowTi as Josia, which are in a 
mimicr\' complex with metalmark butter- 
fhes and tiger moths. You can find them all 
on the same trail 6,000 feet up in the 
Ecuadorean Andes." The Noctuoidea, 
which comprise 70,000 species, are the 
largest of the forty superfarruhes of Lepi- 
doptera. Like Fred Rindge, A4iller was 
hired for his moth expertise. "Moth s\'s- 
tematics border on the intractable," he told 
me. "The same moth that has one name in 
our collection can have another in some 
other museum's." 

Shoumiatoff's hairstreak, I discovered^- 
had been upgraded to a species since my 
last \isit. It had started out in 1943 as a 
subspecies whose only difference firom 
Tlieda celida celida, a Cuban subspecies, ap- 
peared to be a small, whoUy black railspot 
on the underside of its hindwing, as op- 
posed to the black-centered orange-and- 
veUow' tailspot on T. c. celida. But Tiiecla 
was a catchall genus and w-as eventually 
broken up into more than a hundred gen- 
era. In 1964, the subspecies shoumatqffi w-as 
placed in a new" genus. Kesiostrymon. Then 
in 1991, Kurt Johnson decided it was re- 
ally a species of its own and reclassified it as 
Nesiostr)'mon slioumatqffi. 

By this time, many hairstreaks had been 
discovered to mate by scent. Minor differ- 
ences in wing theme, like the color of a 
tailspot. were now seen as the random re- 
sults of taxonomically unimportant ge- 
netic drift. Examination of its genitalia re- 
vealed shoumaroffi to be in fact much closer 
to a mainland species, Nesiostr)'mon celona, 
which ranges fi-om Mexico to Argentina 
but is not easUv seen because it. too, is verv 







I in 

local and elusive. Previously, the butterflies 
of the Antilles were thought to have been 
dispersed from island to island by wind, 
but now a portion of them, including per- 
haps ihonmatqffi, are believed by biogeog- 
raphers to have evolved from the original 
stock after the islands broke off from the 
Mesoamerican mainland, about sixty mil- 
lion years ago. 

j I called Tom Turner, an authority on 
the butterflies of the Antilles, who works 
in Clearwater, Florida. He told me that 
slwiimatoffi is the third rarest hairstreak on 

k Jamaica; the other two are only known 
from a single specimen. "The last time I, 
or to my knowledge anybody, caught one 
was in 1975, and I've been looking for it 
all the time. It lives in the wettest forest, 
which gets two hundred inches of rain a 
year. [My father, however, recalls that he 
caught it in many different habitats on the 
'island.] Its food plant is not known. With 
its bright white underside, it appears to 
flicker on and ofl^ as it skips through the 
bush, so you can see it firom a long way off. 
It looks like confetti blowing in the wind, 
but a Uttle more motivated, if you know 
i what I mean." 

Later on in that day that I spent in the 
Museum's section on Lepidoptera, one of 
Jim Miller's proteges, Cal Snyder, showed 
me a tray of Papilio honenis. The largest 
swallowtail in the New World, five inches 
from wingtip to \vingtip, with yellow 
bands and spatulate tail, it is found only on 
Jamaica and is a famous rarity. (It is known 
in the patois as Goula, my father's boy- 
hood name, \A'hich means "little dove" in 
Russian. AvinofT had shouted "Goula, 
Goula," when he spotted one in Jamaica's 
eastern Blue Mountains. Their guides 
thought he was referring to the bot.) Sny- 
der spends half the year in the field, col- 
lecting in the neotropics. "Time is run- 
ning out," he told me. "Taxa are vanishing 
before our eyes. Many of the type locahties 
of the thirties no longer exist." For the 
moment, homerus, whose range is re- 
stricted to the steepest, most pristine 
slopes of the interior rain forest, is holding 
its own, but Snyder was worried about it. 
"In twenty years," he predicted grimly, 
"these [museum specimens] could be the 
last lioiiicrus" The same could soon be true 
of Shoumatoft''s hairstreaks. D 

Explore the 
fjords and capi- 
tals of northern 

and the Baltic 

July 14 - 27, 1996 

Amid the spectacular natural formations 
and breathtaking landscapes of northern 
Europe are some of the most beautiful 
and historic cities in the world. Vikings, 
Hanseatic League merchants, powerful 
Tsars and many others helped to mold 
this region into a vibrant repository for 
art and architecture. This summer, a 
team of Museum lecturers will lead a 
cruise aboard the brand new ship. Min- 
erva, that will focus on both the natural 
and cultural treasures of Scandinavia 
and the Baltic. Among the destinations 
on our itinerary are Helsinki, St. Peters- 
burg, Tallinn, Stockholm, Gdansk. 
Copenhagen, Bergen and the magnifi- 
cent fjords and countryside of Norway. 

Discovery Tours 
American Musernn of 

Central Park West at 79th St., New York, NY 1002- 
800-462-8687 or 212-769-5700 
Call for a complete list of destinations. 


r / 2/96 J U r tl'- 

I By Robert H. Boyle 

"My river is dying," says Rick 13ove, a re- 
tired Marine Corps colonel and attorney, 
who is the river keeper tor the Neuse 
River Foundation in New Bern, North 
C'arolina. Algae blooms have long been 
known to science, but in the past decade, 
phytoplankton ecologists have character- 
ized the increase in toxic algal blooms, 
from Iceland to the Tasman Sea, as a 
"global epidemic." More than fifty-five 
species of dinoflageUates once thought to 
be innocuous are now known to be poi- 
sonous, but the recently discovered di- 
noflagellate that has been ravaging the 
Neuse, where it killed more than ten mil- 
lion fish in the summer and fall of 1995, is 
something else again. 

This unusual one-celled dinoflagellate, 
Pfiesteria piscicida, is not just a new species 
in a new genus but represents an entirely 
new family in the order Dinamoebales. 
' Actually an animal and not an alga at all, it 
is an "ambush-predator" that can paralyze 
and kill fish and cause a host of human ail- 
ments — from grotesque sores to loss of 
memory — before going into hiding. 

It can kill in fresh water or ocean water 
but is deadliest in "nutrient-enriched," 
that is, polluted, brackish water with a 
salinity of fifteen parts per thousand, a lit- 
de less than half the salinity of sea water. 

After encysting in bottom sediments, P. 
piscicida can undergo at least nineteen 
stages when it chemically senses fish or 
other prey. Ranging in size from 10 to 400 
micrometers (thousands can fit on the pe- 
riod at the end of this sentence), it looks 

hi its killing stage, the two-tailed dinoflagellate 
Pfiesteria piscicida releases a neurotoxin that 
stuns fish before it eats into them. 

Uke an amoeba in one-third of its stages 
and a blob in several others. But in its 
killing stage it is a two-tailed dinoflagellate 
that releases a neurotoxin that stuns fish 
before it eats into them. "It uses something 
called a peduncle, a little organelle that 
comes out fiom the front of the cell," says 
JoAnn M. Burkholder, an aquatic ecolo- 
gist and associate professor at North Car- 
olina State University in Raleigh. "First 
the peduncle looks tonguelike, but after a 
while it becomes very large and develops 
cytoplasm extensions. Then it literally at- 
tacks a fish, burrows right into it and sucks 
out the contents." The end result is that 
the fish usually die with quarter-size sores 
and/or a ravaged anus, a prime target. The 
dying fish also cause the dinoflageUates, 
which live only from twenty-tour to 
thirty-six hours, to produce gametes, initi- 
ating sexual reproduction. They then go 
swiftly into hiding or camouflage them- 
selves as colorless amoebas while continu- 
ing to feed on the carcasses. 

The hit-and-run tactics of this rapidly 
transforming organism, plus its abihty to 
masquerade as a plant by feeding on algae 
and their chloroplasts, prompted Burk- 
holder to dub it the "phantom" dinofla- 
gellate. Thus far, scientists have found the 
phantom only on the East Coast: in the 
Albemarle-Pamlico Sound region; in the 
Atlantic Ocean off WrightsviUe Beach, 
North Carolina; in the Cape Fear and the 
New Rivers in North Carolina; in 
Delaware Bay; and in the estuary of the 
Saint Johns River in Florida. At least one 
other P/7«fcn'(3-like species has been found 
in the Saint Johns estuary and the Indian 
River in Florida, and in Pensacola Bay and 
Mobile Bay on the Gulf Coast. But these 
discoveries may be just the beginning. 
Burkholder says that "toxic ambush- 

predator dinoflageUates likely are wide- 
spread in warm temperate/subtropical re- 
gions, acting as significant but often unde- 
tected sources of fish mortality and 

Although the phantom has probably 
been around for eons — dinoflageUates 
originated 450 to 600 miUion years ago — 
knowledge of its existence came about 
only recently. In the summer of 1988, Ed- 
ward J. Noga, a fish pathologist at the Col- 
lege of Veterinary Medicine at North Car- 
olina State, and Stephen Smith, a graduate 
student, coUected brackish water and some 
fish (juvenile menhaden and flounder) 
from the Pamlico estuary for pathology 
experiments. Several days later, to their as- 
tonishment, Noga and Smith found aU the 
fish in the lab dead or dying. 

Something was kiUing them, but tests 
for bacteria, fungi, heavy metals, and pes- 
ticides aU proved negative. Smith scrubbed 
the aquariums with soap and water, but in- 
stead of refiUing them with Pamlico water 
he added Instant Ocean salts to deionized 
water. He put in new fish, but they too 
died after exhibiting symptoms simUar to 
the first batch. The dying fish appeared to 
be neuroIogicaUy impaired; they were dis- 
oriented and unable to hold position. 
They darkened in color, a sign of stress, 
and they often died near the aerators, as 
though they needed oxygen. Many devel- 
oped open, bleeding sores, but some died 
so quickly they didn't develop the sores. 

Despite repeated emptying, scrubbing, 
and refiUing of the aquariums, the fish kept 
dying. Whatever the cause, "it" was sriU 
lurking. In fact, the phantoms were hiding 
in the glass waUs. As the scientists were to 
learn, it takes a lot to kiU them, especially 
in the cyst stage. Twenty percent of the 
phantom cysts can survive a bath in con- 



The tenacious scientist and the elusive fish killer 




■0 u r n.$J. 

centrated sulfuric acid or s 
ammonium hydroxide, | 
thirty-five days of desicca- | 
tion, or almost two years of = 
dormancy. | 

In frustration, Noga and | 
Smith began hourly sam- ' 
pHng of the water. Through 
a microscope, they observed 
a small dinoflagellate with 
two tails that appeared to be 
abundant when fish were 
dying but disappeared 
shortly after the fish died. 
They began to suspect that 
this was the culprit. 

In the winter of 1989, 
after a number of algal spe- 
cialists had rejected their re- 
quest for help in identifying 
the dinoflagellate, Noga and 
Smith approached Burk- 
holder. "They told me this 
strange story about how it 
seemed to be attacking 
fish," she recalls. "I had 
never heard of a dinoflagellate doing this. I 
turned them down. My background was 
in fresh water, I had done a lot with algae, 
and I knew about dinoflagellates, but I had 
never worked with them. 

"Identification requires a lot of ex- 
tremely fine tuning with a scanning elec- 
tron microscope and a transmission elec- 
tron microscope. If it's what we call an 
armored dinoflagellate [which it turned 
out to be], it has httle plates of cellulose 
that are deposited just below three or four 
membrane layers on the outside of the cell, 
and those membranes obscure the plates of 
cellulose to some extent. 

"It's hard to see the plates, and you have 
to slip the membranes off" to see them. Not 
only that," Burkholder continued, "but 
you then have to squash the cell just right. 
One httle canal, the canal that's in the cen- 
ter of the cell, can contain up to seventy of 
those plates, and you have to obtain the 
number, the exact shape, configuration, 
and arrangement of the plates to say what 
species it is. I am an ecologist, not a taxon- 
omist. There was no wayl" 

After Noga called back several times, 
Burkholder agreed that she would study 
the ecology of the dinoflagellate and send 

The dinqflagellate Pfiesteria has been 
impUcated in fish kills along most of 
the North Carolina coast. Tlte Neiise 
River fish kill in September 1995, 
top, left ten million dead. Center: A 
menhaden killed by Pfiesteria. 
Bottom: A dinoflagellate flesh wound 
on a cleanup worker. 

cultures and preserved specimens for iden- 
tification to an acknowledged authority' in 
the field, Karen A. Steidinger, of the 
Florida Marine Research Institute in Saint ; 
Petersburg. At first institute scientists were 
skeptical that such a strange fish-kiUing di- 
noflagellate existed; then they said they 
found it impossible to culture the organ- 
ism. Almost two years went by. 

In October of 1991, Burkholder, only 
days away from giving a report on the 
phantom at the Fifth International Con- 
ference on Toxic Marine Phytoplankton, 
managed to get to Steidinger good scan- 
mng electron micrographs that showed 
teatures of the organism. Steidinger be- 
came very interested and eventually iden- 
tified the dinoflageOate as a new species in 
a new genus representing a new family. 
After discussions with Burkholder, she 
agreed to name it Pfiesteria piscicida. The 
specific name means "fish killer," while 
the generic name honors the late Lois Pfi- 
ester, a phycologist at the University' of 
Oklahoma. One year later, Burkholder 
and colleagues at North Carolina State re- 
ported in Nature that a "nevi' phantom di- 
noflagellate is the causative agent of major 
estuarine fish kills." 

Between October of 1991 and 1993, 
Burkholder hnked the phantom to eigh- 
teen fish kills that occurred in the Neuse 
and Pamhco Rivers, which empty into 
Albemarle-Pamlico Sound, the second 
largest estuary on the United States main- 
land. Seventy-five percent of the kills oc- 
curred in nutrient-enriched waters, some 
badly polluted. Killed were Atiantic men- 
haden, southern flounder, spot, hog- 
choker, white perch, catfish, striped mul- 
let, striped bass, blue crab, American eel, 
sheepshead, and Atlantic croaker. The 
biggest kill occurred in the Neuse in the 
fall of 1991 when an estimated one biUion 
Atlantic menhaden died and had to be 
bulldozed off" the beach. 

Burkholder started her lab work in a 
small room provided by Noga, but after 
other researchers using the same room 
complained of stomach cramps, she moved 
out. Finally, in April of 1993 she and her 
assistant, Howard B. Glasgow, Jr., moved 
into a new lab provided by the university. 
There, neurotoxic aerosols from the phan- 
tom escaped from the "hot zone" of the 

lab through a faulty ventilating system into 
the "cold zone," causing Burkholder and 
Glasgow to suffer a multitude ot afflic- 
tions, includmg respiratory distress with 
asthmalike symptoms, severe stomach 
cramping, nausea, eye irritation with uni- 
form reddening and blurred vision (lasting 
hours to days), locaHzed perspiring and er- 
ratic heart beat (weeks), reversible short- 
term memory loss (weeks), and reversible 
cognitive impairment (weeks). Glasgow, 
who was hit worse, also suffered from sud- 
den rages. 

"The worst for me was cognitive im- 
pairment," says Burkholder. "I couldn't 
read, I couldn't dial a phone, I couldn't 
converse because I couldn't remember 
what people had said at the beginning of a 
sentence. For about eight days I couldn't 
even form a sentence. Even now I know 
I'm not what I used to be. I have to write 
things down. I used to jog religiously. 
Now every time I try, I wind up sick with 
bronchitis or pneumonia." A paper by her 
and colleagues on the adverse human 
health effects is in press 
at diejotinial of Toxicol- 
ogy and Eiwiroiimental 
Health. The lab was 
closed for ahnost a year 
and a half and only re- 
opened in July 1995 
after inspection by bio- 
i logical warfare experts 
from Fort Detrick, in 
Frederick, Maryland. 

This past summer 
and fall, twenty million 
fish, from menhaden 
to striped bass, went belly up in the Neuse 
At first, low levels of dissoh ed oxygen and 
the phantom combined to cause the kiUs, 
then, on its own, the phantom killed ten 
million fish in September and October. At 
the same time, a number of divers, fisher- 
men, and marine contractors developed 
sores similar to those on the fish. 

Although the dinoflagellate's eff"ects on 
humans outside ot a laboratory have not 
yet been established, state health authori- 
ties issued a warning telling people not to 
swim in, fish in, or come in contact with a 
thirty-five-square-mile section of the 
Neuse, just before it empties into the 
sound. It was the first warning of its kind 

ever issued in the state. Is the dinoflagellate 
thriving in increasingly polluted waters? 

Since 1970, the population in the 
Neuse subbasin area, twenty-one miles 
from New Bern to Pamlico Sound, has 
grown an estimated 74 percent. Now the 
tenth most populous state in the nation. 
North Carolina has been the envy of oth- 
ers in its ability to attract retirees, many of 
whom live in the coastal plain. Since 1950 
there has been a 650 percent increase in 
the amount of waste water being dis- 
charged into the Neuse River watershed, 
the most significant sources being runofi" 
from agriculture and human waste-water 
treatment plants. 

In addition, in the last decade North 
Carohna jumped from seventh place to just 
behind number-one Iowa in the produc- 
tion of hogs, seen as the replacement for 
tobacco. Huge, stinking industrial farms 
sprawhng across the coastal plain contain 
seven nuUion pigs that excrete as much 
urine and feces in one day as a city of 
twenty million people. Last year the Jack- 

Top: Wcllaiuis at the headiraicis oj 
Middle Creek, a tributary of the 
Neuse River, border a hog farm. 
Bottom: Algae bloom on the Trent 
River, where excess nutrients have 
become of increasing concern. 

sonvilk Daily News in Onslow County re- 
ported that Duplin County alone, which 
has a human population of 40,000. pro- 
duced 1.04 million hogs in 1993, a 265 
percent jump in just four years. The hogs, 
in turn, produced 1 .7 truUion tons of ex- 
crement. Add that to the excrement pro- 
duced by the count\''s 26.7 million chick- 
ens and 12.5 miUion turkeys, and as the 
paper said, "WeO, go ahead and roll up 
your trousers." 

Burkholder and her assistants followed a 
spiU of hog waste down the New River 
(thirty-five miles south of the Neuse) in 
June 1995. Testing bottom sediments sev- 
enteen miles downstream from the spiU 
site in September, they found unsafe fecal 
coliform levels as high as 160,000 colony- 
forming units per 100 milliliters ot water 
in the top centimeter of sediment. She also 
found the phantom Pfiesteria. In response 
to the spin, state and Onslow County offi- 
cials held a public meeting in Jacksonville 
in October. Michael Moser, director of 
the state's Division of Epidemiology dis- 
missed the idea that there was a known 
link between sediment bacteria levels and 
human health hazards, while Preston 
Howard, director of the state's Division of 
Environmental Management, said his de- 
partment wiU not sample the sediment. 
Onslow County Commissioner Sam He- 
witt then asked the state officials to silence 
Burkholder and other scientists because "it 
affects the economic and tourism trade." 
Hewitt then added, "I'd like to take a rub- 
ber hose to some of them." 

"My data have been rigorously re- 
viewed," says Burkholder. "They show 
Pfiesterias roles in fish kiUs and disease as 
well as human effects. They also describe 
the role of nutrient o\'er-enrichment in 
stimulating this dinoflagellate. Instead of 
attempting to discredit the science, and 
shoot the messengers, officials should rec- 
ognize the real culprit — water quaUt)' deg- 

Neuse River keeper Rick Dove put it 
this way to members of his organization: 
"While this season has been bad. next 
sunmier wiU hkely be worse. The time has 
come for us to demand that these trustees 
acknowledge the serious nature ot the 
Neuse's illness and take actions that wiU 
lead to her complete restoration." D 




3,96 This 

Our life on the earth's surface, 

based on solar energy and photosynthesis, 

may be the exception rather than the rule. 

Old truths can be tyrannical, 
while the world of life 
remains full of surprises 

The old rules of childhood often continue 
to dominate our lives. I know many adults 
who simply cannot eat a cookie without 
downing a glass of milk at the same time — 
although they would never dream of 
drinking such a vile Uquid m any other 
context. But Mom and Dad once insisted 
that you needed the rmlk to digest the 
cookie — or at least they wouldn't give you 
the cookie unless you drank the milk. 
Similarly, the old saws of our school days 
continue to rule our thinking, thus ban- 
ishing a critical approach to many impor- 
tant subjects — for no tyranny quite 
matches the pull of "what everybody 
knows" but few can defend (we need not 
bother with rationales for self-evident 
truths). I especially remember two old 
saws from my junior high school course in 
general science. And so, with thanks to 
Mrs. Anker, 1 repeat the catechism: 

1. All energy for living communities comes 
ultimately from the sun. Primary productiv- 
ity, or the utilization of solar energy in 
photosynthesis, tbrms the basis ot all food 
chains on Earth. Mrs. Anker, and all sci- 
ence teachers of my formative years, de- 
lighted in providing the standard peda- 
gogic exegesis: consider a living process 
apparently most distant &om a solar source 
and you will srill be able to trace all energy 
to the sun. A worm at the bottom of the 
ocean, living nules below the maximum 

By Stephen Jay Gould 

depth that light can penetrate, eats some 
organic matter on the sea floor. This 
worm food comes from the decayed body 
of a large fish. This fish ate smaller fishes, 
which fed on shrimp, which ate smaller 
animals of the plankton, which devoured 
single-celled creatures, which ingested 
photosynthetic bacteria of the open 
ocean, which derived their energy- from 
the sun (and which may also have hved in 
the house that Jack built, for all 1 know). 

2. Tlie bulk of life's biomass resides in the 
wood of trees in our forests. The sum total of 
Ufe must be awfully heavy, but where is the 
bulk of weight concentrated? In other 
words, what forms of Ufe dominate the 
biomass, or total weight of life on earth? 
Whales? Not likely, for although they are 
very heavy, they are too rare. Bacteria? 
Also not likely, for they exist by the gazU- 
Uon per drop of water, but they are ex- 
tremely Ught. Traditional wisdom has al- 
ways proclaimed that the trees of our 
forests — as both ubiquitous and heavy — 
must bear the bulk of life's biomass. Most 
organic matter is wood. 

I united these two old saws because 
both are apparently wrong — and for the 
same reason — according to discoveries of 
the last two decades. We are perennial \'ic- 
rims of biases imposed by parochiahsms of 
our scale. We are five to sLx feet tall as 
adults and hve somewhere near the bibli- 
cally sanctioned threescore years and ten. 
We often do not see, or cannot appreciate, 
creatures and phenomena that exist at rad- 
ically different scales. By any fair criterion, 

Explore the ancient 
Mediterranean with 
the American Musenm 
of Natural History 


October 2 - 14, 1996 

In the eastern Mediterranean region, where 
three great continents converge and three 
major religions meet, are layers of history 
representing some 50 centuries of human 
endeavor. This fall, a team of Museum 
lecturers will lead a voyage aboard the 
luxurious Renaissance H ' to explore some of 
the ancient sites, spectacular islands and 
historic cities of Greece, Turke\'. Cyprus. 
Israel and Egypt. From Ephesus to the Great 
PNTamids. Nazareth to Athens, Santorini to 
Cyprus, this itinerary brings together some 
of the w orld's great cities and sites of 
antiquit}^ with the \'itality of the eastern 
Mediterranean of today. 

^ Discovery Tours 

American Museum 
of Natural Histoi^^ 

Central Park West at 79th St., New York, NY 10024 
800-462-8687 or 212-769-5700 
Call for a complete list of destinations. 

bacteria are — and al\vays have been — the 
dominant form of Ufe on earth. But we 
cannot see them (at least as indi\-i duals), 
and they may live no longer than the time 
you wdU need to read this essay. Imisible 
and unknown bacteria may also disprove 
both Mrs. Anker's old saws about solar e.x- 
clusivity and woody domination. 

In one of the great biological discover- 
ies ot the late 1970s, marine scientists 
tound rich taunas h^'ing amidst the hot 
waters emanating ixom the earth "s interior 
at deep-sea vents. These vent communities 
included large relatives of creatures li^^ng 
at much smaller sizes in standard en\iron- 
ments. The biggest organism of all. a 
worm ot uncertain taxonomic affinities 
later named Riftia pachyptila, grew to sev- 
eral feet in length but had no mouth, gut, 
or anus — thus making identification diffi- 
cult. (Most biologists now ally Riftia with 
the small phylum of pogonophoran 
worm5.) But why and how could these 
faunas exist at such richness in such an ap- 
parendy inhospitable place? On the stan- 
dard \iew of Hmited nutrition on the sea 
floor, what could be feeding all these crea- 
tures? (All energ}- comes ixom the sun after 
aU, and how much nutrition can get fi"om 
the sunny surface of the sea to the deep 

After a short period of puzzlement, bi- 
ologists realized that local bacteria must be 
forming the base of the food chain for 
these rich vent taunas. Hot ^vaters emanat- 
ing from the vents contained a multitude 
of bacteria — some 500,000 to 5 miUion 
cells per miMiter of emerging water {see 
D. K. Karl, C. O. Wirsen, and H. W. Jan- 
nasch's 1980 article, "Deep-Sea Primar\- 
Production at the Galapagos Hydrother- 
mal Vents," in Science, vol. 207). Many 
vent organisms had evolved special adapta- 
tions to har\'est and eat these bacteria by 
filtration or grazing. Riftici again led the 
parade of unusual solutions. Although de- 
void of mouth, gut. or anus. Riftia does 
grow a large and well-vascularized internal 
organ named the trophosome. About 35 
percent of the trophosome "s weight con- 
sists of bacteria, at densities of about one 
biUion bacterial cells per gram of tissue. In 
this peculiar symbiosis, Riftia pro\ddes a 
substrate for the bacteria, but also feeds 
upon their enormous productivity. 

H I b 1 r y 3/36 

This View of Life 


(Trophosome, a good name for this 
unique organ, means "feeding body."') 

But what could be nourishing such an 
enormous biomass of bacteria so deep in 
the ocean? Traditional wisdom required an 
ultimate solar source, but how could 
enough photosynthetically derived energy 
be making its way to the deep bottom 
around the rifts? Decayed organic matter 
does precipitate down through the water 
column, but not enough to serve as a basis 
for so much bacterial nutrition. 

The major source of energy for bacter- 
ial metabolism turned out to be local as 
well — for these bacteria oxidize the sulfur 
compounds emerging in hot waters at the 
rift, thus reducing carbon dioxide to or- 
ganic carbon — a process called "chemo- 
synthetic primary production" to contrast 
with the usual photosynthetic primary 
production in standard environments 
powered by solar energy. 

As scientists worked out the details of 
these cycles, they realized that something 
unique (or so it appeared at the time), and 
t entirely unexpected, had been discovered. 
The energy to power this ecosystem did 
not come from the sun, either immedi- 
ately or even ultimately. The energy came 
from the earth — in the form of sulfur 
compounds metabohzed by the bacteria. 
In the words of Karl, Wirsen, and Jan- 
nasch: "Energy in the form of geothermi- 
cally reduced sulfur conapounds emitted 
from the vents is liberated during oxida- 
tion and used for the reduction of carbon 
dioxide to organic matter by chemosyn- 
thetic bacteria." 

This ecosystem of oceanic vents worked 
off a system of power opposite to the tra- 
ditional source for life — dmi'iiward from 
worms to bacteria to sulfur compounds to 
energy inside the earth, rather than the 
conventional upward path from worms to 
precipitating organic matter to organisms 
near the surface to photosynthetic crea- 
tures at the base of the food chain and ul- 
timately to solar energy above the earth. 

So the first of Mrs. Anker's two saws is 
wrong. Earthly hfe includes some ecosys- 
tems entirely separate from the intercon- 
nected set of communities dependent 
upon a traditional source of solar energy. 
But what shall we make of the second saw 
about maximal biomass in wood? The 

vent ecosystem rests upon a bacterial 
base — and these bacteria use the earth's in- 
ternal heat as their ultimate source of en- 
ergy. Now the earth has a lot of outside 
warmed by the sun, but it has an even 
greater inside warmed by internal heat. 
Can this internal heat also support bacter- 
ial communities in other places on the sea 
floor or perhaps even inside the earth it- 
self? If so, an enormous realm for bacterial 
biomass would be opened up — a realm 
once viewed as sterile and therefore never 
considered at all in traditional calculations 
of bacterial abundances. Could the earth's 
ubiquitous bacteria even challenge wood 
as a repository of biomass? 

During the past fifteen years, a remark- 
able set of ever cascading discoveries has 
apparently validated this initially odd con- 
jecture that bacteria may live inside the 
earth, in a far wider range of environments 
than we had ever considered before — first 
around deep-sea vents, then in oil reser- 
voirs, and finally in ordinary interior rocks. 

The vents that harbor the Galapagos 
deep-sea faunas are small cracks and fis- 
sures, with waters emerging at gentle tem- 
peratures of 40° to 70° E But another kind 
of vent more closely expresses conditions 
in the earth's interior, and seemed most 
unsuitable as an abode for life — large con- 
ical mounds (known as "smokers") up to 
thirty feet in height, and spouting super- 
heated waters at temperatures that can ex- 
ceed 600° E Could bacteria also live in 
this close approximation of Hell? 

In the early 1980s, John Baross and his 
colleagues found a bacterial biota in the 
superheated waters of smokers. They cul- 
tured bacteria collected from waters at 
650° F and then grew vigorous communi- 
ties in a laboratory with waters heated to 
480° E at a pressure of 265 atmospheres. 
Thus, bacteria can (and do) live at the high 
temperatures (and pressures) of waters 
flowing beneath the earth's surface. 

Writing about Baross's work in a com- 
mentary for Nature, Britain's leading jour- 
nal of professional science, A. E. Walsby 
commented in 1983: "I must admit that 
my first reaction on reading the manu- 
script of Baross and Deming, arriving as it 
did on the eve of April Eool's Day, was one 
of incredulin,'." Walsby began his comment 
(Please turn to page 66) 



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Bill Laswell makes music, not culture by Mark Jacobson 

the synthei 

Bill Laswell, prominent producer of the 
global synthesis of popular st^'les currently 
referred to as "world music," expresses 
deep admiration for people like the intre- 
pid Fahnestock brothers. In the 1930s, the 
American Museum of Natural History en- 
gaged Bruce and Sheridan Fahnestock to 
collect insect and bird specimens in the 
South Pacific. Traveling aboard their 65- 
foot schooner, the Fahnestocks also began 
to document the indigenous music of the 
area. Overcoming a shipwreck and near- 
impossible sound conditions, the brothers 
managed to make what are beUeved to be 
the first recordings of Indonesian gamelan 
ensembles, featuring gongs, bamboo xylo- 
phones, and various other instruments. 
They continued their project until 1942, 
when Bruce Fahnestock was killed by an 
American fighter plane that mistook his 
ship for a Japanese vessel and destroyed it. 

"That's incredible," says Laswell, stand- 
ing in the no-friUs front room of his studio 
on Greenpoint Avenue, a bustling thor- 
oughfare in the Pohsh section of Brook- 
lyn. "But things are different now. The 
world is different. I'm not an ethnogra- 
pher; I don't want to take this music, put a 
frame around it, and stick it in a museum. 
... I'm not saying indigenous music isn't 
important and, wherever it stiU exists, that 
it shouldn't be preserved as much as pos- 
sible. It's just that I think of myself as a par- 
ticipant. To me, what people call world 
music right now, for better or worse, is a 
kind of global street sound. An ongoing 
thing. You can't stop that any place and 
make sense of it, because it doesn't stop." 

Collaboration between rock or jazz- 
based musicians and performers from 
other cultures is nothing new. Charlie 
Parker worked v.ith Machito and other 
Cuban jazz stars to create an entire genre 
ot Afro-Cuban jazz. And who can forget 
the bemused look on Ravi Shankar's face 
as he watched George Harrison struggle to 
control the sitar? But in the multicultural 
eighties and nineties, there has been a 

boomlet of what is often referred to as the 
"cross-poUination" of global pop styles. 

David Byrne, formerly of the Talking 
Heads, has his own label, Luaka Bop, 
which has produced several interesting 
compilations of primarily South American 
pop. The recent Telling Stories to the Sea — 
a sampler of Portuguese language material 
from Angola, Cape Verde, Sao Tome, and 
Portugal — is especially good. While Byrne 
performs on these records only occasion- 
ally, other American pop stars have taken a 
more active approach. Ry Cooder, the 
guitarist, won a Grammy for Talking Tim- 
buktu, his stunning collaboration with 
Mall's formidable Ali Farke Toure. More 
commercially imposing, and controversial 
at the time, was Paul Simon's Graceland. 
Years after the fall of apartheid. South 
Africans are still arguing whether Simon's 
work with the Zulu choral group Lady- 
smith Black Mambazo and others was an 
unforgivable violation of the cultural boy- 
cott then in effect. 

Of these globally expansive artists, how- 
ever, none has worked as closely, consis- 
tently, or successfriUy with as widely dis- 
parate members of the world music 
community as has Bill Laswell. A fascinat- 
ing and underappreciated figure in late- 
twentieth-century pop, this rhythm-and- 
blues bassist from Michigan has been a 
one-man cottage industry of polyglot hip- 
sterism. Laswell first made a name for him- 
self in New York's downtown avant-garde 
scene, where he played with everyone 
from hip-hop inventor Afrika Bambaataa 
to Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten. 

Bill Laswell broke through to commer- 
cial visibHity in 1983 with his seminal pro- 
duction of former Miles Davis pianist 
Herbie Hancock's Future Shock, which in- 
cluded the jazz fiision hit "Rockit." After 
subsequent productions for people like 
Whitney Houston and Mick Jagger, 
Laswell appeared to be on his way to an 
extremely comfortable career in the main- 
stream record industry. While not shun- 

Brinaing it all back home: Bill Liisii'ell mixes 'V .■« 

ning such high-profde work, LasweO. now 
41, universahst in his passions and proHfic, 
has continued what he calls "a life project" 
of playing with, and producing commer- 
cial recordings of, musicians from the var- 
ious pop traditions throughout the world. 
"Sometimes I go there, sometimes they 
come here," he says. LasweU is dressed in 
downtown all black, his habitual attire. On 
the wall behind him are the covers of the 
CDs recorded at the Greenpoint studio: 
various discs by the Gambian kora player 
Foday Musa Suso; "Shabeesation," a fabu- 
lous record bv the Moroccan Aisha Kan- 


c" in liis Brooklyn recording studio. 

disha's Jarring Effects; The Trance of Seven 
Colors, a collaboration between jazz saxo- 
phonist Pharaoh Sanders and Moroccan 
Gnawa drummers and singers; CDs by 
' Manu Dibango from Cameroon; Hooked 
' Light Rays, a trance recording by Tibetan 
monks; and many more. 

Travel is key to Laswell's agenda. A man 
. with many frequent-flier miles, he's jour- 
neyed through the Asian steppe playing 
with Mongolian groups and has gone to 
China and Japan. While some people go 
sightseeing, LasweU goes "soundseeing." 
But even as he prepares to venture to the 

Gambia, Senegal, and Guinea-Bissau to 
play with and record local artists, he points 
out that in some ways it doesn't even mat- 
ter where the music is actually done. 

"I'm not gomg to say the results are 
going to be the same as they would be in 
Brooklyn. But what we're doing is more ot 
a two-way street. When you play with 
someone, no matter what their back- 
ground, if everyone is open, then you can 
talk. We're making music, not culture. . . . 
Someone like Suso, or Fela [Fela Aniku- 
lapo Kuti, the activist Nigerian saxophon- 
ist and singer], they're from Gambia, 

Lagos, wherever, and I'm a bass player 
from Michigan. That's not going to 
change. You are who you are; that's what 
makes it interesting. But when you sit 
down to play together, the hope is that 
you're going to end up some place totally 
different. And that place belongs to us 
alone, because we created it." 

For La,swell, who says he has such a "bad 
memory for details, places, and dates that I 
forget what country I'm in," this locale 
outside temporal definitions ot race, time, 
and culture is where he wants to go. It is 
the basis of his "nonanthropologist" 

Romantic Waterways 

September 13 - 21, 1996 

Between the Black Forest and the Black Sea 
flows the Danube, one of Europe's mightiest 
and most magnificent rivers. Throughout the 
centuries, the river has served as a frontier 
and conduit of civilizations — a timeless river 
whose role in history is as important now as it 
was when it formed the northern boundary of 
the Roman Empire for 500 years. Using the 
brand new M.S. River Cloud as a base, a team 
of Museum lecturers will lead a cruise from 
Vienna, Austria to Miltenburg, Germany 
along the Danube and Main rivers. Highlights 
of this voyage include the Abbey of Melk, 
Passau, Regensburg, a passage through the 
Main-Danube Canal, Niimberg, Bamberg, 

^ Discovery Tours 

.iimerican Museinn 
of Natural History 

Central Park West at 79th St., New York, NY 10024 

800-462-8687 or 212-769-5700 

Call for a complete list of destinations. 

stance. "I'm looking for the meeting 
point. That's why we try to establish a 
long-term musical relationship. I've been 
playing with Foday Musa Suso for more 
than ten years. That's a while. We've got 
that personal history between us." 

Deploring what he calls "one-shot jux- 
tapositions — East-meets- West things," 
which are often too "polite, static, and 
apologetic" — Laswell says that it's in the 
"evolution" of repeated sessions that he 
finds the rough-and-tumble international- 
ism he seeks. Beyond that, he stands there, 
flinty eyed, as you invoke issues that arise 
when local, more "primitive" societies 
coUide with the juggernaut of Western 
ideas and mores — what critics Like anthro- 
pologist Clifford Geertz refer to as "the 
problem of culture." Not discounting the 
potential dangers, LasweU, a wary, perhaps 
even thorny individual, asserts that true 
artistic dialogue, "when everyone is seri- 
ous," militates against cultural domination. 

Politics and social issues will always be 
part of what he does, LasweU says, because 
the sort of global street music he and his 
far-flung partners create is all about 
"people talking about their lives . . . 
today." For his part, Laswell eschews any 
particular agenda beyond the playing. 
"The idea is to come without those kind 
of expectations. This is about the music." 

In contemplating that music, one can- 
not be deaf to the occasional complaint 
lodged against Laswell's brand of restless 
cosmopolitanism. One fan, while profess- 
ing ultimate respect for Laswell's remark- 
able proliferation of material ("material" 
being the rubric under which Laswell 
manages his rather diversified musical em- 
pire), says there's a certain sameness to 
many of the artist's more recent projects. 
"He lays that dance/trance bass track over 
everything so it's like the world according 
to Bill; the Laswell-centric worlds of Bill." 

Indeed, Laswell's omnipresent, hard- 
blues-based "funk" predilections — he's 
worked extensively with George CUnton, 
Bootsy CoUins, and other members of P- 
funk, the phantasmagorical 1970s soul 
band, in addition to several rappers — are 
more effective in certain settings than oth- 
ers. Some collaborations, such as Sola, an 
attempted marriage of Peking opera stylis- 
tics with the angular notions of jazzmen 

like Henry Threadgill, prompt the listener 
to bolt across the room to shut them ofF. 

On the other hand, when Laswell's 
gritty sensibility connects with his seem- 
ingly inexhaustible capacity to accommo- 
date various influences, he becomes a for- 
midable synthesizing force. One of his 
greatest achievements is the 1 988 Hear No 
Evil, which makes spectacular use of the 
far-flung talents of Indian percussionist 
Zakir Hussain, Puerto Rican sahaserio 
Daniel Ponce, Korean drummer Aiyb 
Dieng, and Indian violin player Shankar. 
Under the aegis ot Laswell's Merlinlike 
mixing and matching, what unfolds is not 
unlike the soundtrack to a science-fiction 
cowboy epic set somewhere in Asia, a sub- 
continental country-and-western opus. 

Perhaps even more thrilling is Laswell's 
current work with the youthful, politically 
active antifundamentalist Muslim group 

' Aisha Kandisha's Jarring Effects. On 
"Shabeesaticii " it is as if yearning Arabic 

' drone and thrumming Detroit bass were 
never fully whole until Laswell put them 

Laswell never assumes that every one of 

I his bounteous projects is going to be a suc- 
cess. "We're experimenting. If you knew 

' what would work before you did it, why 

I do it?" What concerns him more, as both 
artist and businessman, is the manner in 

' which "world" music, a term he finds op- 

I pressively vague, is presented to the pubhc. 
"The one-big-happy-family-ot-man 
thing has massive conceptual problems," 
Laswell says, referring to the spate of re- 
cent CD compilations such as Planet Drum 
(supplying one drum cut from Haiti, fol- 
lowed by one drum cut from Laos, and so 
on, for hours). "It's fine that people 
around the world play drums or accor- 
dions, and we have that in common, but 
you put so much of that together, one lit- 
tle bit from here, another from there, it 
doesn't mean anything anymore. The 
other day I saw this world sampler CD 
Planet Soup. There's a lot of great music 
there, but the cover has these instruments 
floating into a soup pot, like the more the 
merrier. Geez. To me, the world's just a 
little more comphcated than that." 

Markjacobson, journalist, novelist, and screen- 
writer, lives in Brooklyn, New York. 

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ights Unseen 

By Christopher Small and David Sandwell 

While Venus, Mars, and the moon have all been 
mapped in detail, much of the earth's surface has re- 
mained largely unexplored, hidden beneath the deep 
oceans. Survey ships have charted only about 7 percent 
of the sea floor with sonar; and even weU-mapped areas 
are based on widely spaced ship tracks. Mapmakers 
have had to rely on intuition and imagination to fdl 
gaps that often spanned several hundred miles. 

Last July, however, the U. S. Navy declassified satel- 
lite data, providing us with our first consistent view of 

the world's ocean basins. This new way of seeing into 
the depths is allowing us to chart many previously un- 
known submarine features and helping us to better un- 
derstand how the sea floor — some two-thirds of our 
planet's surface — is formed at the midocean ridges. 

This new look at the world's ocean basins was made 
possible in 1985, when the Navy and The Johns Hop- 
kins Applied Physics Laboratory launched Geosat, a 
satellite carrying a radar altimeter designed to make 
precise measurements of sea surface "topography," 
which roughly reflects niajor features on the ocean bot- 
tom {see "Reading the Bumps," page 30). 

' Scientists are getting tiieir first complete view of tlie midocean 
ridges, where two-thirds of our planet's surface was created. 

Although some of the high-resolution satellite data 
covering the Southern Ocean around Antarctica were 
released several years ago in response to petitions from 
civilian scientists, most remained classified because of 
their importance in submarine and ballistic missile nav- 
igation. The Navy's release of all the data last summer 
came a few months after the European Space Agency's 
ERS-1 sateDite made similar measurements of the sea 
surface, allowing the first unclassified, detailed view of 
all the ocean basins. 

The combined data from these satellites provide ex- 
1 traordinary resolution of the gravity field over the 

world's oceans. This flood of new information has al- 
lowed us to address some fundamental questions about 
the topography of the sea floor. 

In the 1950s, when sonar surveys made the first 
rapid and accurate measurements of ocean depths, 
oceanographers were surprised by what they found; the 
ocean floors they had imagined to be featureless plains 
were instead some of the most rugged landscapes on 
earth, including the planet's longest mountain range, a 
continuous chain of undersea volcanoes girdhng the 
globe like the seam on a baseball. All along this inid- 
ocean ridge, the plates that make up the earth's surface 

Created by 
gravitational effects, 
small variatior^s in the 
height of the sea 
surface, betray the 
presence of mass/Ve 
features on the ocean 
floor. Warmer colors- 
reds and yellows- 
indicate areas of 
higher gravity. This 
new view of the ocean 
bottom has more 
than doubled the 
number of known 
submarine volcanoes 
and has revealed the 
precise location of 
many poorly mapped 
features. Obtained by 
satellite over a period 
of a year and a half, 
the data from this 
global survey would 
have taken decades 
to gather if 
undertaken by ship. 


30 Earth Science 

As the fast- and slow-spreading midocean ridges produce crust, they fort 

move apart, and molten rock flows forth from below to 
fill the void. The volcanoes, and the sea floor they cre- 
ate at these plate boundaries, assume very different 
forms depending on the rate at which the plates spread. 
Where the plates are slowly diverging — as in the 
Atlantic Ocean, where they are spreading at the rate of 
about twenty miles per million years — a steep-waUed 
central vaUey runs along the axis of the ridge. The val- 
ley can be as much as a mile deep from the ridge crest 
to the floor, where new crust is generated. Broken up 
into segments and following a jagged path, the central 
valley is flanked by rugged terrain. Rapidly diverging 
plates — such as those in the eastern Pacific Ocean that 
are spreading more than 100 miles per million years — 

produce much smoother sea floor at a relatively unseg- 
mented volcanic rise where the central valley has disap- 
peared. (To put these spreading rates in perspective, 
your fmgernaiLs, which grow about three inches per 
year, would grow more than forty-seven miles in a mil- 
Uon years — a rate intermediate between the fastest- and 
slowest-spreading midocean ridges.) 

Geologists have recognized these striking differ- 
ences in midocean-ridge topography since the early 
1970s, but they have never been able to adequately ex- 
plain them. The transition from one ryp^ of terrain to 
the other was assumed to occur gradually as spreading 
rates increased. The nature of the transition, however, 
remained mysterious largely because most of the mid- 

Reading the Bumps 


Hawaiian Seamounts 

Satellites can map the ocean floor indirectly by mak- 
ing precise measurements of the sea surface with mi- 
crowave radar. Geophysicists can then infer the 
topography of the ocean floor because the subtle 
su'ells detected on the sea surface are influenced by 
the gra\dtational attraction of features on the bot- 
tom. The large mass of a mountain on the ocean 
floor attracts extra water to its Niicinit)- and raises the 
elevation ot the sea surface enough to be detectable 
by satellite. For example, a 13,000-foot-high 

seamount in a 16,000-foot-deep ocean basin creates 
a gendy sloping 20-foot-high bump on the sea sur- 
face above it. The diagram above, generated from 
the satellite measurements of the sea surface over the 
Hawaiian seamounts, shows how the bottom topog- 
raphy, measured in thousands of feet, influences the 
shape of the sea surface, measured in tens ot teet. 
Gravit\--induced variations in sea-surface elevarion 
can be distinguished from waves and tides by their 
width and their tendencv to remain stationan,'. 

rkedly different terrains. Exactly why this is so has remained a mystery. 


s In an area of the 
f Indian Ocean largely 
I neglected by ship 
I surveys, a satellite- 
derived gravity map 
reveals three 
midocean ridges. 
South of 
Madagascar, the 
ridge with the deep, 
highly segmented 
central valley is 
spreading about ten 
miies per million 
years-one of the 
slowest rates on the 
globe. Along the 
other two ridges 
(indicated by 
arrows), spreading 
rates are twenty 
miles per million 
years in the north 
and nearly double 
that in the south. 




: ■:■../ 

•';•-?', -^".v.;. 



:v ■ 



* ■ ■ 

> i ■ 

S The fastest- 

= spreading ridge in 


5 t/ie wor/d, where the 
I p/ates of the earth's 
" crust are diverging 
at about 100 miles 
per million years, 
lies west of South 
America and is just 
visible near the top 
of this image. The 
rise is easier to see 
to the south as a 
thin, vertical yellow 
line (indicated by 
arrows). Broken by a 
few prominent 
transform faults, the 
rise Jogs several 
hundred miles to the 

32 Earth Science 

Sonar surveys are tedious; to cover a small area, a ship must track ba>l 

ocean ridges spreading at intermediate rates were lo- 
cated in the remote Southern Ocean around Antarctica 
and had remained virtually unexplored. The midocean 
ridges in the Pacific and Atlantic have received the 
most attention because they represent fast- and slow- 
spreading centers — and because they are closer to the 
American and European research institutions from 
which many of the survey expeditions were launched. 
Now that we have uniform satellite coverage, we 
can see the entire ridge system and make direct com- 
parisons between ridges that are slow, intermediate, or 
fast spreading. What we have found (contrary to what 
was previously believed) is that ridge topography does 
not always change gradually as spreading rates increase. 

As the motion of the diverging plates speeds up, the 
deep central valleys of slow-spreading ridges become 
gradually shallower, and the sea floor they produce be- 
comes smoother. But then — rather abruptly at the rate 
of about sixty miles per million years — the segmented 
central valley disappears and is replaced by a more con- 
tinuous rise, and the sea floor becomes noticeably 
smoother. As the spreading rate continues to increase, 
however, the topographies of the rise and the newly 
created sea floor do not change significantly 

The abrupt changes in topography that we have ob- 
served at a number of places along the midocean ridge 
system may result from some kind of mechanism that 
kicks in at a certain spreading rate, changing the way 


A map of a slow- i 
spreading ridge in the : 
Soutii Atlantic Ocean \ 
was created witli 3 

sonar data collected 1 
by ship (arrows show | 
the direction of plate 
motion). The 
prominent horizontal 
lines are large 
transform fault and 
fracture zones, which 
offset the deep 
central valley of the 
north-south ridge. 
Ship surveys reveal 
considerably more 
detail than satellite 
gravity maps, but at a 
much higher cost; this 
map covers an area 
roughly the size of 
Washington State and 
required about a 
month of expensive 
ship time. 


forth for a month, a process sometimes called mowing the lawn. 

che sea floor behaves. Volcanism and faulting of the 
new crust may interact in a way that produces the 
change. At slow-spreading ridges, eruptions occur 
more sporadically than at fast-spreading ridges, where 
new crust is being produced at a higher rate. And it is 
during quiet periods between eruptions that faulting 
breaks the rock and produces most of the rugged 
topography. At intermediate rates, the alternating 
processes of faulting and volcanism may reach a dy- 
namic equilibrium, resulting in a smoother sea floor. 

Exactly what triggers the abrupt transition remains 
a mystery, but many believe that the temperature of the 
new crust at the boundary where it meets the underly- 
ing mantle is the most important factor. The tempera- 

tures at fast-spreading ridges arc higlicr than they are at 
slowly diverging plates, and this additional heat may 
alter the thickness of the crust and the way it behaves. 
Evidence supporting this idea can be found along the 
Southeast Indian Ridge south of Australia, where the 
plates are spreading at nearly the same, intermediate 
rate aU along its length, but where both types of ridge 
topographies are found. At the transitions from one 
type to the other, small variations in mantle tempera- 
ture may trigger the mechanism controlling the ridge 
structure. More studies of the midocean ridges will be 
necessary before we can understand the mechanism it- 
self, but the new maps generated from satellite data will 
tell us where to focus our research. D 

A sonar survey 
reveals a section of 
the fast-spreading 
East Pacific Rise 
about the size of 
West Virginia. The 
narrow rise running 
down the middle of 
the image is 
flanked by relatively 
smooth sea floor 
spreading away 
from it (in the 
direction indicated 
by the arrows). 
Guided by satellite 
gravity maps, more 
ship surveys will be 
launched to explore 
ridges spreading at 
intermediate rates 
in the Southern 

,3 4 Domes 

i, I. \ i: d I t; 

Nature .^^^ 

Bred for form and function and not good looks, the Alaskan husky 

a k I n g 

By Mark Derr 

On a warm, overcast August evening ni Big Lake, 
Alaska — a town so small it does not appear in my 
atlas — Martin Baser looks at me after feeding the last of 
his eighty huskies and asks, "Do you want to hear me 
howl with them?" Almost before hearing my answer, 
he tilts his head back and, starting low, raises his pitch 
in a long howl. The dogs join in in twos and threes 
until the entire yard is harmonized. After about a 
minute, they quit abruptly, a full orchestral stop. 

Buser's huskies howl after meals, at dusk, when ex- 
cited, and whenever barking alone will not suffice. On 

the trail, Buser — record-setting winner of the 1,159- 
mile-long Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1994, his 
second wm in three years, and three-time recipient of 
its award for humanitarianism — huddles and howls 
with his dogs to build morale and team spirit. 

During the course of a four-day visit, I watched 
Buser train and care for his "houndy huskies," his dis- 
tinctive line of Alaska sled dogs. In harness, they are a 
line of fluid energy, reaching forward with their 
forelegs, driving with their hindquarters. 

By modern definition, the Alaskan husky is not an 
official breed because there is neither a stud book (a 

bngrel that has the drive and talent to put purebred dogs to shame. 


a r a t n n 


closed registry "guaranteeing" pure bloodlines) nor a 
written standard defining phenotype, or appearance. 
Even many mushers and veterinarians call the Alaskan 
huskies mutts. They have emerged from the genetic 
melting pot of twentieth-century Alaska to put all offi- 
cially recognized northern breeds — for example, the 
malamute and Siberian husky — to shame in the world 
of sled dog racing. They have run to records in sprints 
of 30 miles or less; middle distance events of 90 to 400 
miles; and ultramarathons of more than 1 ,000 miles. 

Arleigh Reynolds, an assistant professor of clinical 
sciences at the Cornell University College of Veteri- 

Je(( Schulu, AlaskaStock Images 

nary Medicine, has shown that Alaskan huskies possess 
three times the oxygen-uptake capacity per unit of 
body weight of the best human athletes. (Comparisons 
with humans are used because, not surprisingly, more is 
known about the physiology of human atliletes.) While 
other dogs, including Labrador retrievers, can match 
that result when properly conditioned, none have yet 
shown the combination of physical and mental tough- 
ness possessed by the Alaskan husky. 

The Alaskan husky is a generalist runner, reaching 
about twenty-two miles per hour in a sprint of twenty 
to thirty miles, cruising at ten to fifteen miles per hour 

Alaskan l^suskies have greater oxygen-uptake capacity than human athletes. 

over long distances. By s 
comparison, a racing grey- I 
hound will exceed forty | 
iniles per hour in a sprint S 
(usually a quarter to three- | 
quarters of a mile) . Nearly | 
all the muscle fibers in a 
greyhound's legs are fast 
twitch — for producing en- 
ergy anaerobically — com- 
pared with 50 to 65 percent 
for the huskies. 

Dogs racing in an ultra- 
marathon like the Iditarod 
consume 10,000 to 11,000 
calories a day, 65 percent of 
them in animal fat, which 
they metabolize quickly 
into energy. New studies at 
Harvard and Cornell Uni- 
versities, as well as at the 
Medical CoOege in Bern, 
Switzerland, have shown 
that a high-fat diet signifi- 
cantly increases the number 
of mitochondria — which 
use oxygen to produce 
adenosine triphosphate 
(ATP), which, in turn, 
fuels the muscle cells of 
physically trained dogs. 

Although Alaskan hus- 
kies are officially mongrels, 

everyone involved with sled-dog racing knows them 
when they see them. Like the curs of the American 
South — and unlike many purebred dogs, which are fre- 
quently bred only for appearance — they are a type eas- 
ily identified by function and overall form. 

"An Alaskan husky," Buser says, "is any dog that 
runs fast and pulls hard." It is also distinguished by its 
good feet that withstand the cold, its competitiveness, 
and its sociability, a necessity for teamwork. Distance 
racers must have a good appetite, a strong cardiovascu- 
lar system, and the stamina to trot or canter for long pe- 
riods, then accelerate into a lope. Conversely, sprinters 
must sustain their top speed for the whole race. 

In appearance Alaskan huskies are balanced dogs, „ 
deep chested, with powerflil hindquarters and soHd f 
shoulders. IVlost have the double coat distinctive to | 
northern breeds, with rough guard hairs over a woolly I 
undercoat. They may be solid or parti-colored in red, | 
white, black, tan, gray, and shades between, with blue, f 
brown, or pied eyes. Some are the classic husky type, I 
with medium to long guard hairs, curled tails, and 

Above: Distance 
racers-equipped witli 
protective booties - 
must tiave strong 
cardiovascular systems, 
competitive drive, and 
sociable personalities. 
Below: Iditarod winner 
Martin Buser defines 
the Alaskan husl<y as 
"any dog that runs fast 
and pulls hard. " 

prick ears. Others are 
"houndy," meaning they 
have fuller, more rounded 
muscles, a sloping croup 
(rump), an angulate front, 
sometimes thinner, shorter 
coats, and flop ears. But 
those are points on a con- 
tinuum, not hard distinc- 
tions. Their weight ranges 
from forty to seventy 
pounds, averaging forty- 
five for females and fifty- 
five for males. 

The Alaskan husky is a 
distinctly modern dog with 
deep roots in arctic prehis- 
^^^ tory. Stanley J. Olsen, an 

f^ ,S ^^^fcr^ anthropologist at the Uni- 

^^ ^^■fc versity of Arizona and au- 

thor of Origins of the Domes- 
tic Dog (1985), posits that 
northern North America 
was one of several regions 
where paleolithic hunter- 
gatherers domesticated var- 
ious subspecies of wolf 
10,000 to 15,000 years ago 
(the other regions being 
northern Europe, the Near 
East, and China). Specifi- 
cally, he believes that short- 
faced wolves, whose fossil 
remains were found in Alaska during the early 1930s, 
were the progenitors of the Eskimo dogs, or huskies. 
Although we do not know when people began using 
dogs as draft animals, archeologists speculate that the 
forebears of the Eskimo, who appeared along the 
Alaska coast 1 ,000 or more years ago, had sled dogs. 

The gold rushes across Alaska and Canada's Yukon 
Territory between 1880 and 1908 changed the country 
and the dogs. The great Klondike strike on the head- 
waters of the Yukon River in 1896 brought gold- 
crazed men to Dawson, their sleds and carts hitched to 
anything that moved — other men, horses, goats, dogs, 
wolf hybrids, even turkeys — most of them ending up 
dead in mountain ravines or rivers. Carnivores being 
more easily maintained than herbivores in that environ- 
ment, dogs quickly became the draft animal of choice. 
Boatloads of dogs came from the states — setters, coUies, 
Saint Bernards, Newfoundlands, Airedales, buU terri- 
ers, retrievers, spaniels, pointers, hounds, German 
shepherds — many of them stolen. Although some 
people took fine care of their animals, most followed a 

Traversing Alaska from An- 
chorage to Nome, the Idi- 
tarod Trail Sled Dog Race is a 
rugged test of humans and 
animals. Whiteouts — fierce 
blizzards with hurricane force 
winds that turn snowflakes 
into projectiles — snow drifts, 
bitter cold, accidents, and in- 
juries, as well as the responsi- 
bility of caring for as many as 
sixteen dogs, all contribute to 
the challenge and the allure of 
the race. 

Unquestionably, the Idi- 
tarod is the most famous sled 
dog race in the world, the 
mushing equivalent of bicy- 
cling's Tour de France. But 
the Iditarod is also one of the 
world's most controversial 
sporting events, a target in re- 
cent years of animal-rights 
groups, including the power- 
ful Humane Society of the 
United States, which charge 
that dogs are being run to 
death in the name of enter- 

Although there is no 
proof to support that charge, 
each year of the race, dogs 

The Controversial Iditarod 

A team drops onto the frozen Happy River during ttie 1992 Iditarod. Ttie 
1,000-plus-mile trip tates racers across wind-blown valleys, rugged 
mountain passes, and along ttie coast of the Bering Sea. 

have died from various 
causes: moose attack, broken 
necks, collisions with snow- 
mobiles, heart faOure, and a 
condition called sled-dog my- 
opathy, involving a fatal 
breakdown in muscle tissue. 
In the early days of the race, 
many mushers were careless, 
but that is not true today. 
Nearly everyone involved 

sees the death of a dog as 
tragic and tries to prevent it. 

Partly in response to the 
pressure, the Iditarod Trail 
Committee has established 
standards of dog care and put 
in place a team of veterinari- 
ans that checks each dog at 
periodic intervals during the 
race. While making the Idi- 
tarod perhaps the best-super- 

vised event in the sport of sled 
dog racing, the changes have 
neither ended the deaths nor 
mollified critics. 

In the wave of negative 
publicity, the Iditarod lost 
some of its major sponsors, 
including Timberland and 
lams. But the Iditarod Trail 
Committee enlisted local 
sponsors and has been au- 
thorized by the state of Alaska 
to conduct a fund-raising 

The 1996 race is sched- 
uled to start on March 2 amid 
high hopes for a fast, safe run. 
If their teams stay healthy and 
the weather is good, Doug 
Swingley and Martin Buser, 
who finished first and second 
respectively, in the 1995 Idi- 
tarod, should engage in a 
tight, weO contested race. Last 
year some of Buser's best dogs 
were at home. If they run this 
year, I would place my money 
on him to win in record time. 
I also would predict that the 
tide of publicity will turn in 
favor of the Iditarod and its 
dogs. — M. D. 

basic dictum: Dogs that worked were well fed and bred; 
those that faltered were killed or abandoned. Those 
that survived the brutal conditions interbred with the 
native dogs. 

This mixed canine corps hauled everything from 
mail to gold to people on sleds, toboggans, carts, and 
railroad cars. Traffic jams in towns like Fairbanks 
quickly became dog fights involving thirty or forty an- 
imals and continuing until the drivers, or "dog punch- 
ers," broke them up with whips and boots. Sometimes 
the dogs attacked children. The dogs' howls and barks 
filled the air; their excrement, the streets; their car- 
casses, the rivers. 

The newcomers and native Alaskans raced dogs for 
fun and profit. The first organized contest was the 1908 
All Alaska Sweepstakes, a 408-mile round trip firom 
Nome to Candle. When a team of huskies from the 
Chukchi Peninsula across the Bering Strait won the 
following year, other mushers began importing them. 
Many of those dogs were absorbed over the years into 
the indigenous stock, but others were isolated and re- 

Below: Doug Swingley, 
who won the 1995 
Iditarod in record time 
(nine days, two hours, 
and forty-three 
minutes), receives a 
kiss from his lead dog, 
Elmer. Overleaf: 
Competing in the 1989 
Iditarod, a sled dog 
team enters fiainy Pass 
in the Alaska Range. 

fined into the breed officially known today as the 
Siberian husky. Similarly, the Alaskan malamute was 
originally one coat style of the Eskimo dogs found 
firom the Bering Sea to Greenland. 

After a hiatus precipitated by the First World War, 
when Alaska sled dogs served in the Alps, racing — 
mostly sprints — resumed in 1927. Johnny Allen, an 
Athabascan Indian from the lower Yukon, dominated 
the races with his own line of dogs, a mix between 
wolves, huskies, and Irish setters. (At that time, the set- 
ters were setting records in Idaho sled-dog sprints.) In 
the late 1930s, Allen's dogs became the first to average 
fifteen miles per hour for thirty miles. 

During World War II, racing was again suspended 
when the Army bought almost every available dog in 
the territory. Starting in the late 1940s, a young Fair- 
banks native, Gareth Wright, set out to re-create the 
dogs of his hero, Johnny Alien; they had nearly disap- 
peared during the war. Wright crossed the daughter of 
a field-trial champion Irish setter with one of the last 
dogs of Allen's line. Then he bred in a Siberian husky 

Natural Histo/)' 3/9 

Popular and even scientific 
lore holds that the husky is 
closer to the wolf than any 
other breed, but mushers 
who have crossed their 
huskies with wolves quickly 
bred away from the wild 
genes because they found the 
hybrids unpredictable. 

Specialists seeking to 
compare dogs and wolves fre- 
quently disregard the signifi- 
cance of the relationship be- 
tween human and dog. They 
also tend to discount the abil- 
ities of the dog, arguing that it 
is a neotenic, or perpetually 
juvenile, wolf in appearance 
and behavior. Whether the 
dog owes its evolution to pae- 
domorphosis — early sexual 
maturity and delayed devel- 
opment resulting in retention 
into adulthood of certain ju- 
venile characteristics of the 
wild progenitor (neoteny) — 
has yet to be proved. Even if it 
is, that would simply mean 
that altered timing of devel- 
opment helps account for the 
differences between dog and 
wolf, which are generaDy of 
degree, not kind. 

Among working dogs, 
those changes have led to spe- 
cialized behaviors — swim- 

The Dog-Wolf Connection 

Despite their loolis, Alaslon husl<ies (these are en route to a race in a 
multistory dog carrier) are no more closely related to wolves than are 
other dogs. Genetically, the dog is a subspecies of the gray wolf. 

ming, running, herding, 
pointing game — which prob- 
ably arise from combinations 
of traits found in wolves. As 
ethologist John P. Scott ob- 
served nearly a half century 
ago, dogs are specialists while 
wolves tend to be generalists. 
The most significant dif- 
ference may be social. Wolves 
exist in wolf society; dogs in 
dog, that is, human society. 
The wolf pack is an extended 
family organized in an age- 
based hierarchy, which is far 

less rigid than many people 
believe. The husky "yard" 
and team operate under the 
direction of the driver in a 
more or less egalitarian fash- 
ion. There are leaders on the 
gangline or tow line and a 
subtle sort of social order, as 
well as strong friendships, but 
hierarchies based on domi- 
nance are discouraged, since 
dogs fighting for position can 
injure or kill each other. 

Similarly, humans de- 
cide — or try to — which dogs 

Domesticated Na 

will breed and when, and hu- 
mans assume much of the re- 
sponsibility for raising the 
puppies. In fact, male dogs 
(except the dingo, a feral dog 
gone fully wild) are unique 
among canids for their nonin- 
volvement in nurturing and 
educating their young. As a 
general rule, wolves do not 
inbreed in the wild. Humans, 
on the other hand, encourage 
the inbreeding of captive 
wolves and of dogs. 

Whatever comparisons 
are made, a paradox remains. 
The dog — whether a four- 
pound Chihuahua or a 220- 
pound mastiff — is genetically 
a wolf, as Robert K. Wayne, 
of the University of Califor- 
nia at Los Angeles, has shown 
using mitochondrial DNA 

But no wolf will run like a 
husky, and no one knows 
quite why huskies run. They 
appear to enjoy it, as a look at 
a team being harnessed will 
show. They bawl and bark, 
straining to run. Greyhounds 
chase a mechanical — or 
real — rabbit; huskies pursue 
nothing visible. They cannot 
be compelled to run; they 
must want to do it. — M. D. 

for its small size and good feet. From those breedings 
came his foundation dogs, Queenie and Satan, whose 
offspring he dubbed Aurora huskies. 

Periodically, Wright crossed in village dogs belong- 
ing to racers along the Yukon, but he mainly engaged 
in close line breeding (inbreeding) — mating siblings, 
parents and offspring, grandparents to grand offspring, 
and first cousins — to fix the traits he wanted. Native 
dogs chosen for racing were light, leggy, and energetic, 
whereas the ones deemed best for working trap lines or 
hauling freight were placid, heavy, and strong. 

The advent of the snowmobile in the 1 960s ren- 
dered dog sleds obsolete as a form of transportation, so 
the most desirable native dogs became those suitable for 
racing; the larger dogs moved into the show ring or 
hung on in isolated areas. 

According to legend, targhee hounds from Idaho, a 

Four-time winner of the 
Iditarod in the late 
1980s, Susan Butcher 
brought not only 
international attention 
but also an emphasis 
on dog care to the 

cross between staghounds and Irish setters, also figure 
in the Aurora husky. Wright says, not so. Similarly, his 
experiments with wolves and coyotes were failures, the 
ottspring being "quitters" and "sneaky." In tact, 
Wright lost Satan when a wolf killed him after they 
mated. The wolt produced no puppies. 

Wright's huskies became tanious in the tightknit 
world of sled-dog racing, and he tmally began to sell 
them. George Attla, a young Athabascan who became 
the most successful sprint musher in history; crossed his 
native Huslia village dogs vidth Wright's Auroras in 
1972. "The Huslia dogs were strong and had more en- 
durance," he says. "But Gareth had a faster dog than 
anyone else. You can't escape Gareth 's breeding." 

Doug Swingley, who won the 1995 Iditarod in 
record time and has extensively researched Alaskan 
husky pedigrees, agrees: "If you go back four or five 

Domesticated N 

Each foot of a dog completing the Iditarod may touch the ground 1.3 million times. 

generations in any musher's | 
kennel, you come up with | 
tlie same dogs — Wright's 1 
and Attla's with village t 
dogs." The village dogs i 
came from a 100-mile 
stretch along the Yukon 
from Tanana to Galena, 
with spurs off to places like 
Huslia. On occasion, 
salukis and other hounds 
were crossed into particular 
lines for speed. The result 
was the Alaskan husky. 

Like Wright, many 
mushers engage in close 
line breeding in an effort to 
perpetuate the good quali- 
ties of their best dogs and ^ 
eliminate the uncertainty off 
outside bloodlines. They | 
believe they can spot and I 
weed out those canine ge- 1 
netic ailments that are re- = 
cessive and often fixed 
along with positive traits 
through inbreeding. But 
the best mushers recognize 
that inbreeding is poten- 
tially dangerous and conse- " 
quently look to maintain 
hybrid vigor — having dogs 

from distantly related Unes, crossing in another breed Top: In the past, dogs 
such as a border collie, or obtaining an old-style native were commonly used to 
husky, which might not have much Aurora blood, from transport supplies, 
a remote village on the Bering Sea. sometimes pulling 

The pressure to produce superior dogs is intense, sleds, sometimes 
Sprint mushers strive to have "a whole team of super serving as pack 
animals," Atda says. Not fully mature until two years animals. Bottom: Dogs 
old, sprint dogs are at their peak for about five years, of many types make up 
Then, according to various descriptions, they burn out a sled dog team in the 
or wise up, meaning they begin to hold something in 1908 All Alaska 
reserve. Wright and Attla say they used to sell their Sweepstakes. Facing 
older dogs and less than exemplary sprinters to "Iditar- page: At the finish of 
oders" in the early years of that race, first run in 1973. the 1994 Iditarod, a 

Much has changed since then. With her four victo- cfog naps while waiting 
ries in the late 1980s, Susan Butcher brought to the Id- to be unhitched. The 
itarod international visibility and an emphasis on dog dogs live outside, so 
care, which in many quarters had been indifferent at sleeping on snow is no 
best. With the success of his houndy huskies in 1 992 hardship. 
and 1994, Martin Buser shifted the focus to speed and 
the mental attitude of the dogs. 

"It used to be that geographical divisions accounted 
for differences between dogs," Buser says. "But now 

there is so much traveling 
and interbreeding that good 
breeders are following nat- 
ural selection at its finest. 
People are breeding to their 
likes and dislikes." Buser 
wants happy, outgoing, 
eager dogs with good loco- 
motion, having calculated 
that each foot of each dog 
completing the journey 
from Anchorage to Nome 
will touch the ground 1.3 
million times. Also, because 
he believes that big dogs 
often end up dropped, he 
likes males and females of 
equal size, about fifty-four 
pounds — an idiosyncrasy 
not shared by other mush- 
ers. But like most successful 
mushers today, Buser 
prefers to have as many 
trained leaders on his team 
as possible, should one or 
more falter. 

A walk through Buser's 
Happy Trails Kennel, nes- 
tled in a region of lakes, 
near the Little Susitna 
River, with mountains 
looming in the distance, re- 
veals a range of personalities and phenotypes, from his 
lop ear, short-coated houndy dogs to the more tradi- 
tional husky look of leaders D2 and Dave. When the 
time comes to run, even in front of the all-terrain ve- 
hicle used for training during August, Buser's dogs are 
ready and eager to log a few of their 2,000 annual 
miles. Buser, who knows intimately the gait, habit, and 
personality of each dog, issues commands in a normal 
tone of voice. He stops when the dogs are performing 
well to congratulate and pet each one. This positive re- 
inforcement, representing a new wave among mushers, 
pays off. 

High-quality nutrition and veterinary care, good 
breeding and upbringing have gready improved the 
health of the Alaskan husky, providing the dogs with a 
better Ufe than many house pets have and certainly bet- 
ter than those of their forebears. Excellent Alaskan 
huskies are now available to almost anyone with the 
money to buy and maintain them. But money alone 
cannot purchase victory. AH else being equal, the top 
mushers in any race will be those who share a deep, 
inarticulate bond with their dogs. D 





Synthetic chemicals in the environment may be wreaking havoc with tIJ 

In July 1991, agroup of scientists — including Tlieo Colborn, 
then a fellow at the W. Alton Jones Foundation, and John 
Peterson (Pete) Myers, the foundation's director — gathered at 
the Wingspread conference center near Racine, Wisconsin, to 
discuss their concerns about hormone-disrupting chemicals in 
the environment. They were disturbed by mounting evidence 
that synthetic compounds found in pesticides and industrial 
chemicals were wreaking havoc with endocrine systems. 

The scientists shared information on a broad range of spe- 
cies with problems that ranged from thyroid dysfunction, de- 
creased fertility, and gross birth deformities to feminization of\ 
males, masculinization of females, and compromised immune 
systems. Many of the chemical compounds under discussion 
had an affinity for estrogen receptors in particular, and their ef- 
fects on wildlife paralleled those seen in humans exposed to the 
synthetic estrogen DES (diethylstilbestrol) . Although environ- 

0_m ens 

Broley's Eagles 


Did the decline in the 
percentage of 
successful bald eagle 
nests along Florida's 
west coast nnean the 
birds were sterile? 

The late 1940s: Gulf Coast, Florida 

Charles Broley began his study of Florida's bald eagles 
in 1939 at the suggestion of the National Audubon So- 
ciety. In the early 1940s, Broley followed 125 active 
nests along the peninsula's west coast from Tampa to 
Fort Myers and banded some 150 young eaglets each 
year. In 1947 the picture suddenly changed. The num- 
ber of eaglets began dropping sharply, and in the suc- 
ceeding years, Broley witnessed bizarre behavior in 
many of the eagle pairs. At nesting sites he had visited 
for thirteen years, two-thirds of the adult birds ap- 
peared indifferent to nesting, courtship, and mating. As 
Broley continued his work through the niid- 1950s, he 

became convinced that 80 percent of Florida's bald ea- 
gles were sterile. 

The late 1950s: England 

Although otters were no longer as plentiful as in earlier 
times, the traditional sport of otter hunting continued 
relatively unchanged into the mid-twentieth century. 
To the sounds of horns and baying hounds, hunters still 
pursued their prey; by the end of the 1950s, however, 
they began to have trouble finding otters to hunt. 
When conservationists finally took note of the prob- 
lem, some suspected the pesticide dieldrin, but later 
work pointed to another synthetic chenrical. 

From Our Stolen Future: How We Ale Ttireatenmg Out Fertility. Ii>telllgence, and Survlval-A Si^lenlllic Detective Story, by Theo Colborn. Dianne Dumanoski, and John Peterson Myers. Copyright © Theo Colborn, Dianne R 

(iidocrine systems of humans and animals 

nicntiil hormone disrupters were known mainly for their effects 
on wildlife, the scientists at the Wingspread meeting concluded 
that the substances had the potential to cause large-scale dys- 
function in humans as well. 

In Our Stolen Future, a new book excerpted here, Tlieo 
Colborn and Pete Myers have joined forces with environmen- 
tal science writer Dianne Dumanoski to survey the problem. 
Tltey have found that hormone-disrupting chemicals are ubiq- 

uitous and that the pathologies they cause may result even 
from extremely low levels of exposure. Although many syn- 
thetic chemicals have been tested for carcinogenic effects, few 
have been scrutinized for their impact on the human endocrine 
system. As the authors of Our Stolen Future observe, if such 
substances are causing wide-scale disruption of the hormones 
that enable us to grow and reproduce, ive may be witnessing an 
evolutionary tragedy in the making. — B. D. S. 

Mink Reproduction 

DDT-contamination level (parts per million) 

The mid-1960s: Lake Michigan 

The mink industry that had grown up around the 
Great Lakes because of the ready supply of cheap fish 
had begun to falter because of the animals' mystifying 
reproductive problems. Females weren't producing 
pups. Michigan State University researchers eventually 
linked the reproductive failure to PCBs (polychlori- 
nated biphenyls), a family of synthetic chemicals used 
to insulate electrical equipment. Curiously, a decade 
earlier, other mink herds in the Midwest had crashed 
after the animals were fed scraps from chickens that had 
been given the growth-promoting drug DES. Al- 
though the symptoms were strikingly similar to those 

1 Peterson Myers, 1996. Reprinted by arrangement with Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin Boolts USA, inc. 


Channel Island Gulls 




Were minl< numbers 
declining because the 
animals were fed 
contaminated fish? 
Experiments showed 
that pesticide exposure 
affected a female 
mink's fertility. 



- fi 

i s 


-5. 4 

S 3 

1 ? 

'^ 1 ^01, 







C_- ^_ . 

None o,p'-DDT Methoxychlor Estradio 
Injected Compound 

Was DDT affecting sea 
gull reproduction? Male 
gull emoryos injected , 
with pesticides were 
feminized, as were all 
those receiving 
estradiol, a natural 
estrogen. > ;-4?; 

of the Michigan incident, the second crash offish-fed 
mink could not be linked to DES. 

The early 1970s: Channel Islands, 
Southern California 

Working on San Nicolas Island in 1968, Ralph 
Schreiber, of the Los Angeles County Natural History 
Museum, spotted some gull nests with unusually large 
numbers of eggs. Since gulls rarely incubate more than 
three eggs at a time, Schreiber mimediately suspected 
that more than one female was laying in these nests. 
Four years later, George and Molly Hunt, of the Uni- 
versity of California at Irvine, noticed the same phe- 

i 4 E n V i r n m e n t 

nomenon on Santa Barbara Island. They also saw thin- 
ning eggshells in the gull colony, leading them to ex- 
pect the birds were suffering from DDT exposure. 
Over the next two decades, nesting female pairs would 
be found among the herring gulls in the Great Lakes, 
glaucous guUs in Puget Sound, and roseate terns off the 
coast of Massachusetts. Were the females sharing nests 
because of a shortage of males? 

The 1980s: Lake Apopka, Florida 

Surveys showed that in some Florida lakes, 90 percent 
of aUigator eggs hatched, but at Lake Apopka the 
hatching rate barely reached 18 percent. Even worse, 
half of those that hatched died within ten days. Louis 
GuiUette, a University of Florida reptile biologist, felt 


Lake Apopka's Alligators i^S^ ^^'--■j."' ^,' 

25 _. . ■ .--sstvsR."' ' *. t:-1 


g 20 

Louis Guillette's data 
- --- showed a sharp decline 

er kiloi 

in the alligator 

i 10 

^- population of this Florida 
1 lake after a 1980 


J . chemical spill. 


1980 '81 '82 '83 '84 '85 '86 1987 

there was Htde question that the problems were linked 
to a 1980 chemical spill, after which more than 90 per- 
cent of the alligators disappeared. But why, after the 



t The molecular 


■s Structure of 

iestradiol, above, is 
basically the same 
in all vertebrate 
animals. Such 
shared elements of 
physiology may 
explain why such 
a broad range of 
organisms are 
vulnerable to 

Crossing tlie tolerance ttireshold 

On April 22, 1971, an unusual report appeared in the 
New England Journal of Medicine. A team of doctors from 
Massachusetts General Hospital had found clear-cell 
cancer of the vagina — an extremely rare form of cancer 
that almost never strikes women under fifty — in eight 
patients, aged fifteen through twenty-two. The doctors 
also found a common factor. Of the eight patients, 
seven were daughters of women who had taken the 
synthetic estrogen diethylstilbestrol (DES) during the 
first three months of pregnancy. 

Developed in 1938, DES was commonly prescribed 
for women v/ith problem pregnancies in the belief that 
insufficient estrogen levels caused miscarriages and pre- 
mature births. In the decades that foUovv'ed, doctors 

also began to recommend the drug for untroubled 
pregnancies, as well as for a number of other conditions 
ranging from acne to prostate cancer. College clinics 
also doled out DES as a "morning after" contraceptive, 
and farmers used tons of the substance in animal feed to 
fatten livestock. 

Regardless of the compelling association between 
DES and vaginal cancer reported by the Massachusetts 
General team, some in the medical and scientific com- 
munities remained skeptical that a prenatal exposure to 
DES could cause cancer. The issue was still unsetded 
when John McLachlan, a young researcher who spe- 
cialized in the transfer of drugs and other chemicals 
into the uterus, arrived at the National Institute of En- 
vironmental Health Sciences near Raleigh, North Car- 

; waters were again clear, were researchers still finding 
hatching problems, and why did at least 60 percent of 
the males have abnormally tiny penises? 

1990s: Copenhagen, Denmark 

Over the years, Niels Skakkebaek, a reproductive re- 
searcher at the University of Copenhagen, had seen 
Itimore and more human sperm abnormalities, as well as 
• a drop in the typical sperm count. At the same time, 
Denmark's rate of testicular cancer had tripled. Skakke- 
baek also noticed low sperm counts and unusual cells in 
the testes of men who developed this type of cancer. 
Were the findings connected? He and his colleagues 
eventually reviewed sixty-one studies, most from the 
United States and Europe, but also from Asia, South 

Human Sperm Concentration 


Niels Skai<l<ebaek, of 
the University of 
Copepliagen, charted a 
worldwide decline in 
16% human sperm, counts. 
Are the data sound? 
Will the trend continue? 

1930-51 1951-60 1961-70 1971-80 1981-90 

Chart Sourcei 

Eaelos: Colboin, }. Toxicot. 

Environ. H.. 33 (1991J 

Olters: Chanin and fcllenes B/o/og/ca/ 

Journal of the Unnaeon Socmly. 


Minks: Aule'Jch el al., /. Roprod. Pert.. 

Suppi 19(1973) 

Gulls: Fry and Toone, Science, 213 


Alllgaiofs: Louis Guillelle: alter Woodward 

et a)., 1993 

Sperm; Carlsen ei al., BMJ 305 (1992) 

America, an(i Africa. They were stunned to find that 
average human male sperm counts had dropped by al- 
most 50 percent between 1938 and 1990. D 



Hormone mimics Organochlorines and other synthetic compounds 
can also bind to cellular receptors and elicit hormonal responses 
that may be stronger or weaker than those evoked naturally. 

Hormone blocker Some compounds bind with cellular receptors 
without detectable effects. By outcompetingthe natural hormone 
for receptor sites, however, they suppress natural responses. 

olina. In subsequent animal studies, McLachlan and his 
colleagues demonstrated not only that female mice ex- 
posed to DES in the womb eventually developed vagi- 
nal adenocarcinoma but also that exposed males turned 
up with congenital reproductive-system problems, 
ranging from undescended testicles to abnormal sperm 
to reduced fertility. DES had somehow interfered with 
hormonal messages during the rodents' prenatal devel- 

In the years that followed, ample evidence came to 
light Unking DES not only to human vaginal cancer 
but also to deformities of the reproductive tract. DES 
daughters have higher than normal chances of miscar- 
riage, ectopic pregnancy, and premature deUveiy 

How do hormone mimics such as DES disrupt the 

endocrine system? To act, a hormone must tmd — and 
bind with — the appropriate receptors in and on cells. 
Once joined to the receptor, hormones move into the 
cell's nucleus, targeting genes that "turn on" the bio- 
logical activity associated with the hormone. DES 
binds to estrogen receptors, which are found inside 
cells in many parts of the body, including the uterus, John McLachlan's 
breasts, brain, and liver. The synthetic hormone has animal studies 
two troublesome traits. First, it triggers certain parts of showed that DES 
the reproductive system more effectively than does exposure in a 
estradiol, one of the body's own estrogens. Perhaps prei;nant Jenialc 
even more important, it manages to circumvent a often rcsnlicd in 
mechanism that protects the fetus from the develop- reproductive tract 
mentally disruptive effects of excessive estrogen expo- abiiorinahtics in her 
sure. Normally, special maternal and fetal blood pro- offspring. 

■4 6 En V 

c n ni 

teins soak up almost all excess circulating estrogen. But 
they do not recognize DES. As a consequence, DES in 
the fetal blood supply remains biologically active. 

How many other human-made chemicals act in this 
way is a major unanswered question. But evidence sug- 
gests that, like DES, other compounds can also make 
end runs around the body's defense mechanisms. If so, 
the unborn — whether humans or other animals — are 
vulnerable to disruption from many quarters. 

To date, researchers have identified at least fifty-one 
chemicals — many of them common — that disrupt hor- 

mones in one way or another. Some mimic estrogen as 
DES does, but others interfere with other parts of the 
endocrine system, such as thyroid and testosterone me- 
tabolism. The tally includes large chemical families — 
the 209 compounds classified as polychlorinated 
biphenyls (PCBs), the 75 dioxins, and the 135 furans — 
that have myriad, documented disruptive effects. 

One hundred thousand synthetic chemicals are 
now on the market around the world. Each year about 
a thousand new substances are introduced, most of 
them without adequate testing and review. Some that 

Here, There, Everywhere 



A ii. 

TTieir breast- 
cancer research 
disrupted by a 
physicians Ana 
Soto and Carlos 
traced the problem 
to equipment in 
their laboratory. 

Chasing the plastic Imposters 

The threat ot hormone-disrupting chemicals has come 
to light largely through a series of accidental discover- 
ies and surprises, but none more bizarre than the inci- 
dent that took place just after Christmas 1987 at Tufts 
Medical School in Boston. For more than two decades, 
physicians Ana Soto and Carlos Sonnenschein had 
been exploring why cells multiply — a fundamental 
question in biology, as well as one central to the mys- 
tery of cancer, in which cells run amok. Rather than 
looking for growth factors, however, the two were in 

hot pursuit of an inhibitor. Assuming that proliferation 
was the norm, they were trying to find what stops cell 
growth by experimenting with a strain ot human breast 
cancer cells that multiplies in the presence of estrogen. 
By 1985, Sonnenschein and Soto had found that if they 
removed the estrogen from blood serum through a spe- 
cial charcoal-filtering process and then added the 
serum to estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells, the cells 
would stop multiplying. Ivio years later, they were 
struggling to isolate and purify the specific substance in 
the serum that had given the stop signal. 

Working with cells in tissue culture can be a tricky 
business. There is only one way of doing things — im- 
peccably. Any lapse in discipline — the least hint ot slop- 
piness — can ruin weeks, months, even years of work. 
To eliminate potential problems, Sonnenschein and 
Soto took elaborate precautions and never had a prob- 
lem — until that final week of 1987. 

Sonnenschein had prepared a series of multiweUed 
plastic plates, placing breast cancer cells in twelve small 
cups and then adding varying levels of estrogen or of 
the estrogen-free serum to the tiny cell colonies. Four 
days later, the two scientists returned to the lab to see , 
how the cells had fared. According to the routine, they 
would examine the cells under the microscope before 
transferring them from the plates to special counting 
vials for tallying by an electronic particle counter. Over 
the years, they had done hundreds of variations of this 

Somehow the first plate didn't look right, so Son- 
nenschein adjusted the microscope and looked again. 


have been found harmful have been withdrawn from 
use in the United States, but according to U. S. cus- 
toms export records, analyzed by the Foundation for 
Advancements in Science and Education, in 1991 the 
United States exported at least 4. 1 million pounds of 
pesticides that have been banned, restricted, or volun- 
tarily withdrawn from use domestically. Overall, ex- 
ports included 40 million pounds of compounds 
known to be endocrine disrupters. 

Yearly, five billion pounds of pesticides are applied 
worldwide, not only to agricultural fields but also in 


parks, schools, restaurants, supermarkets, homes, and 
gardens. Although synthetic chemicals now seem an 
inextricable part of the fabric of modern life, they have 
only come into use fairly recently. 

Now scientists are finding evidence that hormone- 
disrupting chemicals may have combined effects and 
that seemingly insignihcant quantities of individual 
chemicals can have a major cumulative effect. The 
magnitude of this problem is still unknown, but those 
who have watched the list of hormone disrupters grow 
think the age of discovery is far from over. D 

A. ^ W 

( The whole plate — every single colony growing in the 
I specially modified blood serum — was as crowded as a 
I subway train at rush hour. The estrogen-sensitive breast 
cancer cells were not only multiplying, but they were 
i doing so regardless of whether estrogen had been 
added. In all their years of cell work, Soto and Sonnen- 
scheiii had never seen anything like it. Something had 
gone seriously wrong. It had to be some sort of estro- 
gen contamination, because non-estrogen-sensitive 
cells in other experiments were behaving as expected. 
Carefully preparing another batch of plates with 
breast cancer cells, the two scientists again saw gallop- 
ing proliferation. It wasn't a fleeting event. The myste- 
rious source of contamination had to be somewhere in 
I the lab. To trace it would mean a tedious process of 
elimination. It would be tour long, frustrating months 
of checking and rechecking procedures and equipment 
I before the two finally tracked down a source — and two 
I whole years before they were able to put a name to the 
chemical contaminant that was causing the cells to pro- 
liferate. The source was the orange-capped Corning 
centrifuge tubes that the researchers had always re- 
! garded as benign and inert. But something in the tubes 
appeared to be biologically active. 

These findings prompted Sonnenschein and Soto 
and other Tufts representatives to meet with Corning 
officials on July 12, 1988. At that meeting, Soto and 
Sonnenschein learned that Corning had recendy mod- 
ified the composition of the plastic resin in the tubes to 
make them less brittle. The company had not changed 
the catalog number on the item, however. When Soto 

asked about the chemical content of the new resin, 
Corning declined to disclose the information on the 
grounds that it was a "trade secret." 

Worried about the possible broader imphcations of 
their discovery, Sonnenschein and Soto determined to 
purify the offending compound and to make a prelim- 
inary identification using mass spectrometry analysis. 
Finally, at the end of 1 989 they had a definitive answer: 
the active component in the plastic was p-nonylphenol, 
part of a family of synthetic chemicals known as 
alkylphenols and commonly added to polystyrene and 
polyvinyl chlorides (PVCs) to make them more stable 
and less breakable. The plastic centrifuge tubes in 
which Soto and Sonnenschein had stored serum had 
been of polystyrene — a plastic that, depending on the 
manufacturer, may or may not contain nonylphenol. 

Searching the scientific literature, the investigators 
found bits and pieces of information that only height- 
ened their concern. One study reported that PVCs 
containing alkylphenols were used in the food-proces- 
sing and food-packaging industries. Another investiga- 
tion found nonylphenol contamination in water that 
had passed through PVC tubing. Soto and Sonnen- 
schein even discovered that nonylphenol had been used 
in synthesizing nonox'ynyl-9 — a compound in contra- 
ceptive cream. Yet another experiment demonstrated 
that nonoxynyl-9 broke down into nonylphenol in lab- 
oratory rats. 

To ascertain whether p-nonylphenol acted like an 
estrogen in living animals — not just in a lab dish — Soto 
and Sonnenschein injected the substance into rats. 

iwt, 8 E ri V i r li ri e n i 

They found that in female rats without ovaries, p- 
nonylphenol caused the hning of the uterus to prohfer- 
ate (as would have happened had the animals been 
given natural estrogen) . 

The researchers also learned that alkylphenol poly- 
ethoxylates (chemicals found in many detergents, pesti- 
cides, and personal-care products) can break down into 
nonylphenol and other chemicals that mimic estrogens 
when they encounter bacteria in animals' bodies, in the 
environment, or in sewage treatment plants. Although 
alkylphenol polyethoxylates have been in wide use 
since the 1940s, they came under scrutiny in the 1980s 
because of their toxic effect on aquatic Ufe. By the late 
1980s, several European countries had already banned 
their use. In 1990, the United States was still using 
more than 450 million pounds annually. 

When Soto and Sonnenschein published their find- 
ings in 1991, even veteran investigators of hormone- 
disrupting chemicals were shaken. For years, the ongo- 
ing discussion about possible human health risks from 
synthetic chemicals had been based on the assumption 
that most human exposure comes from chemical 
residues, primarily pesticides, in food and water. Now 

Soto and Sonnenschein had discovered hormone dis- 
rupters where you would least expect them — in ubiq- 
uitous products made from materials considered benign 
and inert. Here was glaring evidence of our vast igno- 
rance about the dangers in our everyday environment. 

While Soto and Sonnenschein were chasing conta- 
mination in their lab, a similar drama was unfolding at 
the opposite end of the country, at Stanford University 
School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California. In this 
case, too, an estrogen-mimicking compound was 
traced to plastic lab equipment — ^but the culprit sub- 
stance had not been linked with polystyrene products 
or nonylphenol. The Stanford team found another es- 
trogen mimic, bisphenol-A, leaching fi^om polycarbon- 
ate, an entirely different kind of plastic. Polycarbonate 
is used in the manufacture of lab flasks, as well as many 
consumer products, such as the giant jugs used to bot- 
tle drinking water. 

Here again, the discovery was accidental and oc- 
curred only because the scientists were conducting re- 
search with estrogen-sensitive cells — in this case, yeast. 
In the course of their experiments, the Stanford re- 
searchers, headed by endocrinologist David Feldman, 

Altered Destinies 



Up against evolution 

Because our knowledge of hormone receptors has 
grown rapidly since they were first identified in the 
mid-1960s, we are now beginning to understand why 
synthetic chemicals have such dramatic effects across an 
astonishing range of species. Classic accounts of evolu- 
tion tend to emphasize innovation and change, but 
there has also been a strong conservative streak in the 
history of Hfe on Earth. 

As scientists have explored hormone chemistry in 
various animals, they have marveled at the lack of 
change over millions of years of evolution. Whether in 
a turtle, a mouse, or a human, the endocrine system 
produces a chemically identical form of estrogen — 
estradiol — that binds to an estrogen receptor. The dis- 
covery of similar estrogen receptors in animals as differ- 
ent as turtles and humans argues for an endocrine 
system that arose early in the evolution of vertebrates. 

Although research has demonstrated that imposter 
chemicals bind with the estrogen receptor, it has not 
yet illuminated why the receptor readily accepts them. 
The similar efl:ects of DDT and DES led scientists to 
suspect a common structural feature, but to their be- 
wilderment, they found that the receptor binds to 
chemicals with strikingly different structures. 

The problem is large, and it is by no means re- 
stricted to environmental estrogens. Other classes of 

chemicals affect different parts of the endocrine system, 
such as thyroid- and testosterone-mediated processes. 
Still others inhibit the body's ability to produce steroid 
hormones in the first place. 

The pressing question is whether humans are al- 
ready suffering damage from half a century of exposure 
to endocrine-system disrupters. Have these chemicals 
already altered individual destinies by scrambUng the 
chemical messages that guide development? Many of 
those famihar with the scientific case beUeve the answer 
is yes. But whether hormone-disrupting compounds 
are also having a broad impact across the human popu- 
lation is difficult to assess and even harder to prove. 
This is so because of the nature of the contamination, 
the transgenerational effects, and the long lag time be- 
fore damage becomes evident. 

The chemical age has created products, institutions, 
and cultural attitudes that require synthetic chemicals 
to sustain them. The task that confronts us over the 
next half century is one of redesign. We must find safer 
ways to meet human needs. As we work to create a fu- 
ture where children can be born free of chemical con- 
tamination, our scientific knowledge and technological 
e.xpertise will be crucial. Nothing, however, will be 
more important to human well-being and survival than 
the wisdom to appreciate that however great our 
knowledge, our ignorance is even greater. D 

found a contaminant binding to a yeast protein. The 
estrogen mimic proved to be the bisphenol-A in the lab 
flasks they used to sterihze water. 

In a 1993 paper, the Stanford team reported their 
discovery and their discussions with the manufacturer 
of the polycarbonate, GE Plastics Company. Appar- 
ently aware that bisphenol-A leaches out, particularly if 
"lexposed to high temperatures and caustic cleaners, the 
company had developed a special washing regimen to 
eliminate the problem. Stanford began working with 
GE and soon discovered that the company's chemical 
• assay could not detect bisphenol-A at levels below ten 
parts per billion. Yet two to five parts per billion of 
bisphenol-A was enough to prompt an estrogenic re- 
sponse in cells in the laboratory. GE officials con- 
tended, however, that polycarbonate containers are un- 
llikely to leach bisphenol-A in normal use because they 
would not be subject to the high temperatures required 
for sterilization. 

Spurred by the Tufts researchers' report of biologi- 
cally active plastics, scientists at Spain's University of 
Granada decided to investigate the plastic coatings that 
manufacturers use to line metal cans. These often in- 

conspicuous coatings are because of concerns that met- 
als might contaminate the food or impart a metallic 
taste. Such plastic linings are reportedly found in 85 
percent of food cans in the United States and about 40 
percent of those sold in Spain. The brother-and-sister 
team of Maria-Fatima Olea, a food toxicologist, and 
Nicolas Olea, a physician specializing in endocrine 
cancers, analyzed twenty brands of canned foods pur- 
chased in the two countries. They discovered bisphe- 
nol-A (the same chemical that Stanford researchers had 
found leaching from polycarbonate lab flasks) in stun- 
ningly high concentrations in such canned foods as 
corn, artichokes, and peas. Bisphenol-A contamination 
was detected in about half the canned foods they ana- 
lyzed. In some instances, the cans contained as much as 
eighty parts per billion — twenty-seven times the 
amount that the Stanford team reported was enough to 
make breast cancer cells proliferate. Even though syn- 
thetic estrogens are less active than natural hormones, 
at such levels they may be contributing significantly to 
human exposures. Biologically active plastics were 
leaching from "metal" cans, where one would not ex- 
pect to find plastic at all. D 

arson Redux 

Theo Colborn creates 
her own legacy 

When Theo Colborn arrived in 
the District of Columbia in 1985, 
a fifty-eight-year-old grand- 
mother with a brand new Ph.D. 
in zoology, she had no particular 
interest in biological effects of 
synthetic chemicals. She had been 
a pharmacist in New Jersey and a 
sheep rancher in Colorado before 
she decided to fulfill a long-held 
desire — to go to graduate school 
to study ecology. Through a life- 
long passion for watching birds, 
she had been dra'wn into the 
growing environmental move- 
ment and had spent years working 
as a volunteer on western water 
issues. Although some male advis- 
ers had been skeptical about in- 
vesting energy in a fifty-some- 
thing graduate student, Colborn 
persisted and won a slot as a con- 
gressional fellow at the Office of 
Technology Assessment. 

Colborn next joined a project 
at the Conservation Foundation, 
a nonprofit think tank in the Dis- 
trict of Columbia, to assess the 
health of the Great Lakes. Al- 
though the lakes' waters had im- 
proved markedly thanks to envi- 
ronmental regulation, Colborn's 
search through the scientific liter- 
ature led her to believe that seri- 
ous problems remained. Blinded 
like others by a preoccupation 
with cancer — which in the past 
three decades has become syn- 
onymous with the words "toxic 
chemicals" — Colborn at first 
missed important clues. 

Gradually, however, she began 
to see patterns emerging from the 
studies. The animals with the 
greatest problems proved to be 
top predators, such as lake trout, 
snapping turtles, and bald eagles. 
And although adult animals often 
appeared to be doing fine, their 
offspring had myriad problems — 
primarily matters of derailed de- 

Colborn then began to inves- 
tigate the human-made contami- 
nants found in the tissues of trou- 
bled wildlife. She found evidence 
in the scientific literature to con- 
firm her hunch that many of these 
contaminants were disrupting 
hormones that regulate the body's 
vital processes and guide develop- 
ment. Seven years later, Colborn 
is still on the trail of hormonaUy 
active chemicals, exploring the 
implications of such contamina- 
tion for wildlife and human 
health. — Diciinic Duuuiiioski 



W i e ri t h e Desert 
\Al' a s ?ii r e e n 



South Africa's Karoo yields 
fossils of formidable plant 

By Gillian King 

A few years ago, paleontolo- 
gists exploring the deserdike 
Karoo region of South Africa 
came upon some curious 
coiled tubes in the area's 250- 
miUion-year-old rocks. Some 
r\\"ent\'-four inches in length 
and six to eight inches in di- 
am^eter, these fossilized 
corkscrews led to enlarged 
chambers within the rocks. 
The most common fossil ani- 
mal found in the area's rocks — 

and the right size to have oc- 
cupied the corkscrews — ^was 
Diicwdon galeops. a far-distant 
relative of mammals. Thanks 
to its abundance in Karoo fos- 
sils, this creature is one of the 
best-known extinct verte- 
brates. Diictodon adults were 
the size of small dogs and had 
rather long, slink\- bodies. 
Thousands of specimens of 
voung as we]l as adults and ot 
rare body skeletons as well as 
numerous skulls, have been 

The corkscrews appear to 
be the spiral entrances of bur- 
rows that led to the animals' 
sleeping or brooding cham- 
bers. Although we don't know 
for certain whether Diictodon 

e.xcavated the burrows or bor- 
rowed them from other ani- 
mals, scratch marks within the 
burrows are consistent \\ith 
the animal's using its blunt 
claws and horny beak to dig 
the spiral passages. 

Diictodon belonged to a 
group of animals known as di- 
cynodonts. Unlike the pole- 
cat-shaped Diictodon, most di- 
cynodonts were squat, 
barrel-bodied, lumbering 
beasts that ranged from rat size 
to hippo size. Their front legs 
sprawled out from the chest, 
while their back legs were 
more upright and puUed in 
partly under the body. Not 
built for speed or agility, they 


Karoo, Cape Province 

The stark Karoo 

landscape is broken 
only oaasionally by 
the odd bush or sheep 
or by flat-topped 
hilb, known as 
kopjes, where the 
rocks have weathered 
to reveal gray, green, 
and purplish layers. 



- Zimbabwe,- 







land ~ 



& Bloemfontein* ijesotho . 

'" South Africa ""*'" 

Great Karoo 
Cape Town _ East London 

' 'port Elizabeth 

South Africa 


Great Karoo 

Cape Town 

Little Karoo 

Port Elizabeth 

Tlie Karoo was once a landscape 
of fern- and cycad-lined rivers. In 
a reconstruction of a 245-million- 
year-old scene, right, one 
Lvstrosaurus grazes while its 
companion bathes. Tlie toothy 
predator Moschorhinus hirks in 
the background. 


were most likely capable of 
powerful movements, such as 
digging or burrowing. 

In the prime of the dicyn- 
odonts, other groups such as 
manunals, birds, and dinosaurs 
had not yet arisen. The fore- 
bears of such reptUes as croco- 
diles and lizards had appeared, 
although not in large numbers. 
Dicynodonts were members of 
a larger group that had di- 
verged much earlier from rep- 
tile ancestors. Often referred 
to by the unenlightening and 
not very distinctive name 
"mammaUike reptiles," these 
creatures could not be classi- 
fied with either the cold- 
blooded, scaly-skinned reptiles 
or with the warmblooded, 
hairy mammals. Rather, they 
were seen as bridging an evo- 
lutionary gap between the two 
major groups. One subgroup 
of the so-caUed mammaUike 
reptiles, the cynodonts, even- 
tually gave rise to true mam- 

mals. But most, including the 
once-abundant, diverse, and 
widespread dicynodonts, even- 
tually became extinct, leaving 
no direct line of descendants, 
only fossils as evidence of their 

Success story 

By whatever criterion for 
success one chooses — numbers 
of individuals, diversity of spe- 
cies, geographic range, or du- 
ration through geological 
time — the dicynodonts stand 
out as one of the most success- 
ful groups of animals that have 
ever lived. The earliest dicyn- 
odonts known are from re- 
mains discovered in Russia and 
South Africa and date back 
some 260 million years, to the 
middle of the Permian period. 
At this stage, dicynodonts 
were rare, but within the next 
ten milKon years they became 
coirunon enough to have left 
the abundant remains found in 
Karoo rocks and to have colo- 

nized several continents. 

The dicynodonts also have 
the distinction of being the 
first vertebrates to have be- 
come diverse and efficient 
herbivores. Before the advent 
of dicynodonts, the most im- 
portant plant eaters were in- 
sects and other invertebrates. 

South Africa during the 
Permian offered the dicyn- 
odonts a lush realm for feed- 
ing, at least seasonally. Today 
the arid Karoo landscape is 
broken only occasionally by 
the odd bush or the flat- 
topped hills known as kopjes, 
but some 250 million years 
ago, the area was a vast plain 
crisscrossed by rivers the size 
of the Mississippi. The cUmate 
was warm to hot, and dry pe- 
riods were interrupted by sea- 
sonal rainfall that caused flash 
flooding. {Diktodon burrows, 
dug into the banks of Karoo 
rivers, would have been sub- 
ject to intermittent inunda- 
tion. This may account for the 

abundance and fine preserva- 
tion of fossils of this creature; 
many may have perished 
within the sediment-fdled 
burrows.) Vegetation fringed 
the great watercourses and 
formed bamboolike stands in 
the water itself. Grasses and 
flowering plants had not yet 
made an appearance on earth; 
conifers, ferns, horsetails, and 
now-extinct plants such as 
seed-ferns dominated the 
weU-watered habitat. 

A competitive edge 

Why had no previous verte- 
brates taken advantage of this 
green world by speciahzing in 
herbivory? Some predecessors 
and contemporaries of the di- 
cynodonts, such as the sail- 
fmned pelycosaurs, were in- 
deed herbivores, but they 
could only chop off pieces of 
plants and bolt them down, 
leaving the gut to salvage some 
nutrients during digestion. Di- 




^ I VI idtibkliiii tht Katoo 
I a piudiicuve iontce offosuls as 
well fl? the uorM<i richest fossil 
dicyiiodont site 

Fossilized remains oj two Diictodon. Fossil burrows and dicynodont hones are abundant in the Karoo. 

cynodonts were the first land 
vertebrates to evolve sliding 
jaws for crushing plant tissue 
and quickly extracting nutri- 
ents. In short, they were able 
to chew. 

Surprisingly, despite their 
jaw mechanism, most dicyn- 
odonts were toothless, except 
for two large, canineUke tusks 
in the upper jaw. (These tusks 
give dicynodonts their name, 
which means "two doglike 
teeth.") The tusks do not seem 
to have been involved in food 
shredding; that job was han- 
dled by an extensive covering 
of tough, horny material on 
the jaws. This horn was often 
built up into ridges and plat- 
forms, rather hke the horn in 

ijaws of some present-day tur- 
tles, and provided a constantly 

t renewed surface against which 
plants could be pulverized. 
Dicynodonts speeded up the 
extraction of nutrients by 
starting the process in the 
mouth. This meant that they 

Present-day grazers 

could obtain more nutrients 
from fewer plants; in a seasonal 
environment like the Karoo, 
this could have given them a 
competitive edge. 

Dicynodonts varied in their 
ways of dealing with the plants 
they fed upon. These varia- 
tions on the successful feeding 
theme led to the possibility of 
diversification, and, indeed, 
dicynodonts occupied a vari- 
ety of niches in the ancient 
Karoo, depending on whether 
they were browsers or grazers, 
choppers or grinders. Some 
fed on roots, some on leaves, 
some on fruiting bodies of 
plants. Others may have sup- 
plemented their plant diet 
with an occasional insect. 

Modern analogues 

If we had to choose a mod- 
ern-day counterpart to dicyn- 
odonts, the best candidate 
would be the rodents. Basi- 
cally herbivorous and diverse, 

they range greatly in size 
while retaining the same gen- 
eral skeletal framework, and 
are abundant and widespread. 
While the dicynodonts echo 
these traits, they certainly did 
not make their way around 
their habitats with rodentlike 
rapidity. Even the relatively 
slender Diictodon was better 
suited for tough work such as 

We cannot tell whether Di- 
ictodon, or indeed any dicyn- 
odont, laid eggs or produced 
hve young, or whether parents 
looked after their offspring. 
We do, however, have strong 
evidence that males and fe- 
males were distinguishable, or 
sexually dimorphic. In a sam- 
ple of hundreds o( Diictodon 
skulls from one fossil locality, 
almost equal numbers of skuUs 
with tusks and skuUs without 
them were found. Apparently 
one sex — we can't be sure 
which — had tusks, perhaps to 
attract the opposite sex or to 
brandish in contests for secur- 


mg territory or mates. 

Preliminary studies of Di- 
ictodon jaws suggest that they 
functioned rather hke wire- 
cutters and would have been 
appropriate for cutting up re- 
sistant vegetation such as stems 
or roots, possibly encountered 
during the animals' subter- 
ranean activities. 

Survival tactics 

Baby and juvenile Diictodon 
skuUs have been found, the 
smallest of which are less than 
an inch long. As smallish her- 
bivores with no obvious de- 
fenses against the predators of 
the day, individuals may well 
have banded together in some 
kind of loose herd to reduce 
the chances of being caught 
and possibly to protect their 

Some paleontologists have 
suggested that some of the 
later and much larger (hippo- 
sized) dicynodonts also con- 

. ■ and the ungrazeable 

.VcT rcldlcd to hut \;rcatly 
resembling cactuses, euphorbias 
contribute to the uniisuid plant Ufe 
of Karoo National Park. Blach 
eagles, wildcats, springbok, 
gcinshoh. and rock hyraxcs are 
among the park's denizens. 

Mountain Zebra National Park in Cape Proinnce is home to herds of Cape Mountain zebras. 

gregated in herds as they 
roamed a landscape that was 
becoming increasingly arid. If 
plant life was diminished, di- 
cynodonts might have had to 
wander farther afield in search 
of sufficient forage. Although 
the adults might have been 
large enough to be effectively 
predator-proof on these jour- 
neys, the young may have 
been more vulnerable to at- 
tacks from contemporars' 
predators, probably the newly 
emerging carnivorous dino- 
saurs and their relatives. 

Theme and variations 

Many dicynodonts appear 
to be variations on a basic 
theme, while others depart 
radically from the picture of a 
generalized dicynodont such 
as Diictodon. Cistecephalus, for 
example, had a body only 
about eight inches long. Both 
its head and body were modi- 
fied in ways that resemble 
adaptations to digging seen in 

present-day animals such as 
moles. Its robust foreUmbs 
could have produced a power- 
ful digging stroke. Cistecephalus 
had a sohd head with enor- 
mous eye sockets, quite unlike 
those of moles. Scientists have 
therefore speculated that Ciste- 
cephalus spent much of its time 
above ground, rooting around 
after dark, using its large eyes 
to watch for predators. 

At the end of the Permian, 
about 255 million years ago, a 
total of thirty-five dicynodont 
genera are known to have ex- 
isted. At the beginning of the 
Triassic, about 245 million 
years ago, the sole genus that 
persisted was Lystrosaurus. 

Dicynodont diversity had 
diminished, but extraordinary 
numbers of Lystrosaurus 
roamed the earth. Their re- 
mains have been found m 
rocks worldwide. After the 
heyday of Lystrosaurus, dic^oio- 
donts never became common 
again, and by the end of the 
Triassic, 210 million years ago. 

and the tameable 

after 50 million years on earth, 
they were gone. 

Many theories have been 
advanced to account for the 
dicynodonts' extinction. 
Competition with new. up- 
and-coming animals — the 
cynodonts; the ■weird, beaked 
herbivores known as rhyn- 
chosaurs; and early dino- 
saurs — was a popular theory 
until scientists noticed that the 
rise of these groups did not 
coincide with the fall of the 
dicynodonts. Nor can a cata- 
strophic event, such as a mete- 
orite hitting the earth, be in- 
voked to explain times ot 
dicynodont crisis. 

Dry demise 

More likely, climatic 
changes that increased aridity 
also affected the vegetation on 
which dicynodonts fed, thus 
leading to their demise. As the 
supercontinent Pangea drifted 
northward toward the equator, 
the climate in large areas be- 

came more and more arid. 
Some plants must have died 
out, while others adapted to 
dryness in ways that made 
them less accessible or less 
palatable to herbivores. Dicyn- 
odonts would have had to 
adapt or die. At the end of the 
Permian, they managed to 
adapt to enough new niches, 
or to hold on to enough old 
ones, so that the group sur- 
vived into the Triassic. But fi- 
nally, increasing aridity and 
higher temperatures must have 
undermined these creatures, 
which had evolved tor success- 
ful colonization ot tairly moist, 
temperate niches. 

After developing the appa- 
ratus for efficient chewing, 
these masters of plant eating in 
the PeriTuan-Triassic world 
died out when that world 
changed. Of the so-called 
mammallike reptOes, only di- 
cynodonts' distant cousins, the 
cynodonts, left descendants. 
Today, mammalian grazers and 
browsers carry on the great 
tradition of herbivory. D 

4 1 ^ ^ I I IS urc dotred with 
desertworthy grasses and 
punctuated by rugged 

Ostriches roam wild w Capt Pioi'uice and have also been successfully farmed in the Karoo area. 


Hisiory 3/96 


Waiting f o r H a I e - B q p p 

I By Joe Rao 

Speeding along at a million 
miles a day, the newly discov- 
ered comet Hale-Bopp is 
hurtling toward the inner solar 
system, where by next spring it 
may become the brightest 
comet in decades. The new 
comet IS named for two Ameri- 
can amateur astronomers who 
first reported it last July 23. It 
seemed unusually bright even 
though it was some 650 million 
miles from the Sun, suggesting 
that it's either a whopper of a 
comet or an ordinary one going 
through a temporary outburst. 
This is what comet Kohoutek 
did in late 1973, prompting 
many to prematurely label it the 
comet of the century. 

Kohoutek flopped because it 

was a "virgin" comet, making 
its first trip in from far beyond 
the orbiting planets. The ices 
covering the comet were rapidly 
consumed as they approached 
the relative warmth ot the inner 
solar system and evaporated, 
generating a cloud of highly re- 
flective gas and dust, which 
forms the halos and long tails 
that make comets visible. By the 
time Kohoutek was to make its 
closest pass to the Sun, its icy 
coating was spent. 

Initial worries that Hale- 
Bopp inight also fizzle have 
been eased by a very taint blur 
ot light found by an Australian 
astronomer on a photographic 
plate taken on April 27, 1993. 
This eariier sighting has been 
used to reconstruct the comet's 
orbit, which has repeatedly car- 

I The Planets in March 
Mercury wiU not be visible this month. The innermost planet is 
passing behind the Sun, reaching superior conjunction on the 28th. 
Venus, which is approaching a favorable eastern elongation in 
April, stands 40° above the southwestern horizon at sunset and sets 
about four hours later. It grows more briUiant this month, reaching 
magnitude -4.3 by the 31st. On the evening of the 22d, Venus will 
be well above and to the right of a lovely crescent Moon. It will end 
the month high in the west at sunset, only 2° below the Pleiades. 
Mars, hidden by the Sun, wiH reach solar conjunction on the 4th. 
Jupiter rises in the southeast three to four hours before sunup and 
is still east of the meridian at dawn. On the 4th, it will lie 3.6° 
north of the second-magnitude star Nunki, the brightest star in the 
handle of the teapot-shaped constellation Sagittarius. On the 
following morning, if you examine Jupiter with binoculars or a 
telescope, you will see it passing very close to a fifth-magnitude star, 
which appears like a bright new Galilean satellite. On the morning 
of the 14th, a fat, waning crescent Moon will be sitting above and 
well off to the left of Jupiter. 

Saturn, like Mercury and Mars, is hidden by the Sun's glare, 
arriving at its solar conjunction on March 17. 

Seven days after the discovery of 
comet Hale-Bopp, this image was 
taken with the 90-inch telescope 
at the Paloinar Observatory. 

ried it into the inner solar sys- 
tem every 3,000 years or so. Ac- 
cording to Brian Marsden, an 
astronomer at the Harvard- 
Smithsonian Center for Astro- 
physics, the new comet's orbit 
will bring it closest to the Sun 
on April 1, 1997. Ifit fails to 

perform as expected and can't 
be easily seen, it's a good bet 
that it will be rechristened "the 
April Fool's comet." 

Hale-Bopp will make its clos- 
est approach to Earth on March 
23, 1997, at a distance of 123 
million miles. Traveling in an 
orbit perpendicular to the plane 
of the solar system, it is tracing a 
greatly elongated eUipse, which 
is about 33 biUion miles from 
the Sun at its farthest point. If, 
as Marsden calculates, the comet 
has made repeated visits to the 
inner solar system, then most of 
Hale-Bopp's ices have probably 
already evaporated, and what as- 
tronomers are now seeing may 
really be a big and bright ob- 
ject — maybe ten times larger 
and one hundred times brighter 
than HaUey's comet. 

The Moon IS full on the 5th at 4:22 p.m., EST; last quarter is on the 
12th at 12:14 P.M., EST; new phase is on the 19th at 5:44 a.m., 
EST; and first quarter is on the 26th at 8:30 pm., EST. On the 
evening of the 24th, look for the orange-red star Aldebaran just 
below and to the right of the fat crescent Moon. 
Comet Hale-Bopp is currently visible only with a telescope from 
the Southern Hemisphere or from lower northern latitudes. But as 
it moves up from the south and over the north pole of the Sun next 
spring, it will be in good position for Northern Hemisphere 
viewers. If you have access to the World Wide Web, there are a 
number of Hale-Bopp home pages that give more information; for 
those interested in trying to spot it with a telescope, try the 
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics' page (http:// for the coordinates of 
the comet's position on any given day. It it brightens as expected, 
we wiU provide more information in a tliture issue. 
The Vernal Equinox occurs on March 20, at 3:03 pm., EST, when 
spring officially begins in the Northern Hemisphere. 

Meteorologist Joe Rao is a guest lecturer at the America}! Miiscuin- 
Hayden Planetarium. 






By Robert H. Mohlenbrock 

[n two habitats 800 miles 
apart, scientists have saved tvvo 
closely related wildflowers 
from extinction by suppressing 
the growth of competing 
plants and using fire to stimu- 
late the germination of dor- 
mant seeds. One of these sites 
is Langham Island, which lies 
about forty miles southwest of 
Chicago in a rocky gorge ot 
the Kankakee River. Built 
lupon a bed of dolomite, the 
northern, downstream end of 
the island is a flat-topped up- 
land, while the southern, up- 
stream end consists of a low- 
lying deposit of alluvial soil. 
Trees cover most of the island's 

twenty-four acres. During the 
spring, the winter ice breaks 
up on the river, and much of 
it is forced through the wide 
channel to the west of Lang- 
ham Island, scouring the is- 
land's bank and felling trees 
that grow close to the edge. 

The island's claim to botani- 
cal fame traces back to the 
morning of June 29, 1872, 
when the Reverend EUsworth 
Jerome HiU of Kankakee — a 
pubhc school teacher and avid 
amateur botanist — rode on 
horseback to the village of Al- 
torf on the banks of the 
Kankakee River and then 
crossed by boat to Langham 
Island. The island had most 
recently been owned by a 
Potawatomie who had grown 

some crops there, but most of 
it was in a natural state. When 
HiU climbed ashore on what 
he called the "gravelly island," 
he found a number of rare na- 
tive plants, including leafy 
prairie clover, buffalo clover, 
and a white-flowered violet. 

But HiU's greatest discovery 
was a group of four- to eight- 
foot-tall plants whose pinkish 
flowers resembled those of 
hollyhock, but were a little 
smaller. As it turned out. Hill 
had found a plant new to 
botanical science. Like the 
hollyhock, the new plant be- 
longed to the mallow family, 
and it most resembled a spe- 
cies in the Rocky Mountains. 

But the scientific identification 
of the plant remained unde- 
cided until 1906, when 
botanist Edward Lee Greene, 
of the Smithsonian Institution, 
decided to distinguish it as a 
species in the same genus as 
the Rocky Mountain flower. 
He named it llianma reinota 
("remote" because ot its great 
distance from the Rockies). 
Today we know this plant as 
the Kankakee mallow, and it 
grows in the wild only on 
Langham Island. 

In 1912, botamst Earl E. 
Sherff began making regular 
observations of the Kankakee 
mallow, and as late as 1 945 he 
reported that farming had 
ceased on the island and that 
the mallow was flourishing in 

River refuge 

flic Kankakee iiialloit' of Illinois, 
labot'c. Left: A juniper tree across 
I the channel from Langham Island, 
hhe mallow's last home in the 
I wild. 

The Peters Mountain mallow 
resembles the Kankakee species, 

hut lacks its scent. 

Rock Creek is a tributary of the Kankakee River 

58 F 


Si !| 

an abandoned field. In the 
meantime, other botanists and 
plant enthusiasts helped dis- 
tribute Kankakee mallow 
seeds, so that today the species 
grows as an ornamental in sev- 
eral parts of the country. 

By 1983, however, the 
number of Kankakee mallow 
plants on Langham Island had 
dwindled to 180, according to 
botanist John Schwegman, of 
the lUinois Department of 
Conservation. One reason for 
this decline was the wide- 
spread increase of nonnative 
shrubs that apparently cast too 
much shade for the mallow to 
thrive. The U. S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service hsted the 
plant as a candidate for endan- 
gered species designation and 
appointed Schwegman to 
study it. 

Schwegman concluded that 
in the wild, the plant grew 
best in a somewhat open 
canopy that was subjected to 
periodic disturbances. He rec- 
ommended eradicating the ex- 

Langham Island, B^dieyl 

Illinois Kankaki 

otic shrubs and then burning 
the area, hoping not only to 
reduce shrub density and aOow 
more sunlight to come in but 
also to stimulate germination 
of Kankakee mallow seeds that 
were lying dormant in the soil. 
This strategy was introduced 
in 1985, with the first fire set 
on April 3. By midyear, sixty- 
four new seedlings were lo- 
cated, all from germination of 
dormant seeds. Following 
continued management, 
enough of the plants now 
thrive that the Fish and Wild- 
life Service has never had to 
hst this species as endangered. 
CoincidentaUy, 800 miles to 
the east, a related story has un- 
folded. On August 3, 1927, 
several members of the West 
Virginia University Botanical 
Expedition, led by professors 
P. D. Strausbaugh and Earl L. 
Core, set out to look for plants 
on Peters Mountain, Virginia, 

Far-flung relations? 


a few miles across the state 
Une. About 500 feet above the 
New River, at an elevation of 
approximately 2,000 feet, the 
group entered a dry, open for- 
est dominated by rather 
stunted post oaks and rock 
chestnut oaks. Beneath the 
trees were several bare patches 
of sandstone. Where soil had 
fdled pockets in the sandstone, 
wildflowers grew. 

One of the wildflowers that 
the botanists discovered grew 
about six feet taU and had 
pinkish flowers that looked 
hke small hoUyhock blooms. 
About fifty of these plants 
were scattered over a small 

area, many growing m 


sunlight because the trees were 
so sparse and stunted. Taking a 
few specimens back to the lab- 
oratory for identification, 
Strausbaugh and Core learned 
that their plant was nearly 
identical to the Kankakee mal- 
low. There were a few differ- 
ences, however: the Illinois 

plants were a little taller on av- 
erage, and they had a slight 
fragrance, which the Virginia 
plants lacked. The two also 
differed slightly in the shape of 
their leaves. To this day 
botanists cannot agree upon 
the exact status of these two 
plants, although the Fish and 
Wildlife Service recognizes 
them as two distinct species, 
calling the Virginia plant the 
Peters Mountain mallow. 

In 1984, botanists checking 
the status of the Peters Moun- 
tain mallow found it faring 
even more poorly than the 
Kankakee mallow. They were 
able to locate only five plants 
and no young seedlings. A 
hiking trail that had cut 
through the colony had intro- 
duced a coarse, weedy wild- 
flower called Canadian leafcup, 
which had overtaken the un- 
derstory and outcompeted the 
mallow. To try to protect the 
remaining plants, in May 1986 








J^ < T 1/Cinclnnati / WEST *'ashi#nrB,.C7-' 

'I 65 ifV ,. /■■"'' VIRGINIA .,/;^ p iMiie 


Langham Island 
is now an 
Illinois Nature 


Peters Mountain, 

100 Miles 

A similar management strategy in two habitats — one hi 
Illinois and one hi Virginia — has saved tn>o rare mallows. 


he Fish and Wildlife Service 
idded the Peters Mountain 
nallow to the federal list of 
.-ndangered species and au- 
horized a plan to prevent its 
.-xtinction. The Canadian 
eafcup was eliminated and 
jurns were carried out in 
1992 and 1993 under the lead- 
:rship of the Virginia Depart- 
nent of Conservation and 
(Recreation. As a result, some 
500 new seedlings came up. 

To insure protection of the 
Kankakee mallow, Langham 
llsland — which is part ot 
Kankakee River State Park — 
(has been designated an Illinois 
Nature Preserve. The Nature 
Conservancy recently pur- 
chased the land on which the 
Peters Mountain mallow 
■grows (it was previously in 
private hands even though it 
falls within the boundaries of 
[efferson National Forest). 
/With both species apparently 

/iew to the new 

on their way to recovery, 
botanists may now return to 
the question of why these two 
closely related plants grow in 
the wild in only two widely 
separated locations. 

Robert H. Mobknhrock, professor 
emeritus of plant biology at 
Southern Illinois University, Car- 
bondale, explores the biological 
anil geological highlights of the 
U. S. national forests and other 

For visitor information write: 

Illinois Department of 
524 S. 2d Street 
Lincoln Tower Plaza 
Springfield, Illinois 62701 
(217) 782-6302 

Virginia Field Office 
The Nature Conservancy 
1233-A Cedars Court 
Charlottesville, Virginia 22903 
(804) 295-6106 

Sbadbusb blooms near the mallow site on Peters Mountain, ovcrloohiug 
the New River. 

Next Month in 


Special Travel Issue 

Troy's Embattled Gold 

In April, the Great Treasure of Troy discovered by 
Heinrich Schliemann is scheduled to go on display, 

for the first time in fifty years, at Moscow's 

Pushkin Museum. For a history of the controversial 

collection. Natural History goes to the site 

of the original excavation. 

by Caroline Alexander 

The Maya Sculptures of Copan 

An exclusive look at the collection of temple facades 

and stone figures of the new Maya museum in 

Honduras, set to open this spring. 

by Barbara and William Fash 

Photographs by Etnico FeroreUi 

Jamaa El-Fra, Marrakech 

Sooner or later, everyone in Marrakech comes to this 

great public square, where storytellers, snake 

charmers, and hustlers meet. 

by Philip D. Schuyler 

Photographs by Lori Grinker 

Mushroom Time in Telluride 

Every summer, this former Colorado gold-mining 

town attracts a group of treasure hunters seeking the 

fragrant, golden chanterelle. 

/))' Gary Lincoff 
Photographs by Chip Simons 

Family Digs 

What's it like when a family of five goes out on a 

fossil dig in the South Dakota Badlands? 

/))' Mark Jacobsoti 

Photographs by J. L. Bulcao 

A L A S K A/S ti'U T]^ "TFRT'C ;C "' 


and R e a d i n 

The Making of a 
Marathon Mutt 

page 34 

On the first Saturday of every 
March, the fifty to sixty dog 
teams participating in the Idi- 
tarod Trail Sled Dog Race 
leave downtown Anchorage 
on the ceremonial leg of their 
race to Nome — 1 ,000 or so 
miles and ten to seventeen 
days away. The mushers follo'w 
bike traOs, then Glen High- 
way, to Eagle River, seventeen 
miles north of Anchorage. 
From there the dogs are 
loaded onto trucks and driven 
thirty-five miles to Wasilla for 
a night's rest. The next morn- 
ing the teams restart in Wasilla; 

then the timed race begins. 
From WasiUa the teams make 
an hour's run to Knik, where 
they leave the Alaska road sys- 
tem for the challenges of the 
trail. If you rent a car, you can 
catch the teams m Eagle 
River, Wasilla, and Knik. For 
close-up photographs, plan to 
be at the Anchorage starting 
chute three hours before start- 
ing time, when it is open to 

There are other things to do 
in the Anchorage-Wasilla area 
while waiting for start day. In 
town, the Anchorage Histori- 
cal and Fine Arts Museum has 
exhibits of Alaskan history and 
culture. Less than an hour's 

A sled tiog peers out of its traveling case. 

drive south of the city on Se- 
ward Highway is the Alyeska 
ski area, a resort with a scemc 
hft to a restaurant 2,000 feet 
above the valley. An hour or 
so beyond that is the Portage 
Glacier, an ice flow five miles 
long and a mile wide. 

If you've always wanted to 
ride on a dog sled or visit a 
kennel, you can sign up for a 
tour at the ski resort or in the 
towns of Wasilla and Willow. 
WasUla holds a festival before 
the race, and the area has sev- 
eral museums, including the 
Iditarod Headquarters, which 
features race videos and histor- 
ical displays, and the Knik 
Museum, which has a Canine 
Hall of Fame. 

Fewer visitors travel to 
Nome, on the coast of the 
Bering Sea, to see the mushers 
arrive and to attend the awards 
banquet. But for those who 
want to, early reservations are 
essential — accommodations 
are at a premium. The exact 
date depends, of course, on 
when the first team arrives; by 
banquet time, thirty or so 
teams have passed under the 
Iditarod finish-line arch. 

For more information about 
the Iditarod, write or call the 
Iditarod Trail Committee, P.O. 
Box 80800, WaslUa, AK 
99687-0800, Tel. (907) 376- 
5155 or Fax (907) 373-6998. 

When the Desert Was Green 

page 50 

In the region of South Afi-ica 
known as the Great Karoo are 
kopjes (flat-topped hills) and 
dry stream beds where fossil 
dicynodonts have been found. 
In the very center of the 

country, the sparsely vegetated 
Karoo is hot in the austral 
summer and wet in the winter. 
The scenery is dramatic, but 
not varied, so the best way to 
appreciate it might be in short 
excursions from a Karoo town. 
Group travel is recommended, 
and a four-wheel-drive vehicle 
is advisable. 

From Beaufort West, a good 
stopover town at the foot of 
the Neweveld Mountains, 
Karoo National Park is a short 
drive. Estabhshed in 1979, the 
park is home to more than 
fifty species of mammals. The 
Springbok Hiking Trail leads 
through a wide variety of 
Karoo habitats and can be 
covered in three days, with 
overnight stays in huts along 
the trail. A shorter nature walk 
passes the in situ bones of the 
dicynodonts. Fossil-looking is 
fine, but tossil-hunting is ille- 
gal without a permit. 

GraaS"-Reinet is eastern 
Karoo 's major town, founded 
in 1786. More than 200 of its 
buildings — flat-roofed Karoo 
cottages, gabled Cape Dutch 
houses, and ornate Victorian 
villas — are national monu- 
ments. The Karoo Nature Re- 
serve is within walking dis- 
tance, but the game-viewing 
area is open only on weekends 
and hoUdays. Visitors may not 
leave their vehicles, and there 
are no accommodations 
within the reserve. To the east 
is Mountain Zebra National 
Park, estabhshed to insure the 
survival of that rare animal. 

For more on the Karoo, 
read Fossils of the Karoo, by M. 
A. Cluver (South African Mu- 
seum, 1991). 



Your source for 
travel information. 


the Avorld 






For additional 
information call: 

Canada's Northwest 
Phone: 800-661-0788 
Fax: 403-873-0294 

Cheesemans' Ecology/ 
Birding Safaris 
Phone: 800-527-5330 

Melanesian Tourist Services 
Phone: 310-785-0370 
Fax: 310-786-0314 

North Carolina's 
Crystal Coast 
Phone: 800-786-6962 

Travel Wild International 
Phone: 800-368-0077 

Or see "Member's Market" 
page 69 for ordering 
information and /or 
free brochures. 



Journey with us to Churchill, 

Manitoba to view & photograph 

the Great White Bears, close-up, 

in a Tundra Buggy* or our Tundra 

Bunkhouse Lodge. Oct. tours from 


For a free brochure call 


PO Box 1637, Vashon, WA 98070 



Papua New Guinea 


Papua New Guinea 

Exped itionary cmises aboard the deluxe Melanesian 
Discoverer. Explore remote villages along the Sepik 
River and the enchanting Trobriand islands. 

Overland Adventures • Sculxi Diving • Flying Safaiis 

Melanesian Tourist Services 

"You could Just visit PNG. or you con live Itl* 

302 West Grand Ave.. Ste 10 B 

El Segundo, CA 90245 

(310) 785O370FAX; (310) 785-0314 

Papua New Guinea 



Antarctica, So. Georgia & Faiiciands 

Nov. 22 - Dec 20 

Join our non-smoking expedition on the 

beautiful Alia Tarasova! 25 landings planned. 

Tanzania Selous/ Zanzibar Safari ^ 

Jul. 20 - Aug. 4 


Ecologg/ Birding Safaris .k^,.^ 

20800 Kittredge Road, Saratoga, CA 95070 Jh 

800-527-5330 Since 1980 '"^ 


Playrjl Ponies. 


Jiscoviir a place wliere nabonal seasnores 
extend as lar :ls me eye can see, wnere 

i trolic ima tlie v^ai>e I^ookout 




Li^ntliouse beckons to modem-day 
adventurers. Beautiliu oeacnes, tantastic 


liin^, great ^o\il Come play our ^ames 

1 tlie Crystal Coast. 





North Carolina's 


Along The Southern Outer Banks 


Before Dark 

With sunrise in * 

early May and " 

sunset by late 

August, that 

leaves you four 

months. Sure it's 

a long day, hut 

the season's short. 

Untamed wilderness, spectacular 

rivers, and wildlife viewing make this 

trip an all day affair. This year head 

north - for one great day to remember. 

Call toll-free l-S00-66i-07SS fi?.v 1-403-S73-0194 
or wrilc: Dcpiirtmciit of Economic Dcvcloi'imiil niiif 
Tourism, Suite 26, Government of the Norllmvst 
Territories, Box 1320, Yellowknife. NT. Canniin 
XIA2L9 for \iour free ^^ 

co\)\j of the Exflorers' Guide. ^^^K 

CANADA'S Northwest Territories 

Within reach, yet beyond beUcf 




Hislo ry 3/96 


a Stan 

By Neil de Grasse Tyson 

Cosmic discoven- can take many forms. 
Sometimes we trip over the unexpected. 
Sometimes, when looking for one thing 
\ve discover something else. And some- 
times we find what we are looking for be- 
cause we had a good hunch it was there. 

We know stars exist because we see 
them. We know planets exist because we 
happen to hve on one, and, of course, our 
solar system contains eight others. But a 
big gap in mass — more than a factor of one 
hundred — exists between Jupiter (the most 
massive planet in the solar system) and the 
least massive known star. Does the galaxy- 
contain no orbs of intermediate mass, or 
are we just ignorant? 

Recendy, Tadashi Nakajima and others 
from the Cahfornia Institute of Technol- 
og%' and Johns Hopkins University discov- 
ered an extremely dim object near the cool 
red star GHese 229, which is about eigh- 
teen hght-years away in the southern con- 
stellation Lepus. The estimated mass fits 
nicely within the planet— star gap: too 
much mass to be a planet; not enough to 
be a star. This object, and those yet to be 
disco\'ered with similar mass, form a class 
known as brown dwarfs. Rather than 
being given a fresh ID, the brown dwarf 
was labeled simply GHese 229B, which is 
common practice when companions are 
found among stars that are already cata- 

Because it is 1/250,000 the luminosirs' 
ot our Sun (itself no beacon in our galaxy'), 
the brown dwarf can be estimated to be 
several percent of the Suns mass, so it is 
between rwenr.' and fift^' times the mass of 
Jupiter. An even better way to estimate the 
brown dwarf's mass would be to track it in 
space. The physical separation between 
Gliese 229 and its companion amounts to 
a mere four biUion miles, about the aver- 
age distance between the Sun and Pluto. 
This teUs us that, in just several years, the 

Hubble space telescope 
could follow Gliese § 
229B for a sufficient in- I 
ter\-al in its orbit to allow f 
us to derive a more pre- S 
cise mass. f 

We have suspected all ^ 
along that brown dwarfs 
were out there. One rea- 
son for our confidence is 
the fundamental theo- 
rem in mathematics that 
allows you to declare 
that if you were once 3' 
8" tall and are now 5' 8" 
tall, then there was a 
moment when you were 
exactly 4' 8" tall (or any 
other height in be- 
tween). An extension of 
this notion to the physi- 
cal universe allows us to 
suggest that if round 
things come in low-mass 
versions (such as planets) 
and high-mass versions 
(such as stars), then there 
ought to be orbs at all masses in between, 
provided a similar physical mechanism made 
both. The same cosmic principle operates 
in the kitchen: when you spiU milk on the 
floor (you may, indeed, try this at home), 
you don't just see big drops and little 
drops; you also see a hiE range of interme- 
diate sizes. The success of kitchen experi- 
ments norwithstanding, the study of ex- 
actly how giant gas clouds fragment into 
cosmic orbs of all sizes is a major subfield 
of astrophysical research. 

I do not know when and where the 
term brown dwarfhecame trendy among as- 
tronomers, but the term was clearly biased 
toward the comparative vocabulary' of as- 
tronomers who study stars, because only 
when placed next to a star could a brown 
dwarf be called a dwarf. Had the vocabu- 
lary of planetars' astronomers prevailed. 

Taken in 1994 with the Palomar telescope, this image was the first \ 
to reveal a brown dwaif, nearly lost in the glare of its companion, 
the star Gliese 229, about eighteen light-years from Earth. 

then brown dwarfi might have been called 
"fat giants." 

You should also know that brown 
dwarfs aren't really bro^^•n. At best, they 
are deep, deep red. The hottest among 
them wotild barely rival tomorrow's left- 
over fireplace embers. The color of a 
glo^\ing object is an exceDent indicator of 
its temperature. While the universe can be J 
a colorfril place, a conspiracy of astrophys- 
ical law and human physiolog)' forces us to( 
perceive stars as glowing in only three' 
basic colors or glowing in no color at all.' 
In order of increasing surface temperature, 
they go from invisible to red hot to white I 
hot to blue hot. 

The densest and hottest part of a col- 
lapsing gas cloud is the center. The larger 
the collapsing mass, the higher the pressure 
and temperature in the core. Theoretical 

is not born 

■ i 1995 Hubble space telescope image shows the brown dwarf more 
learly. It is the size of Jupiter, but with twenty to fifty times the 
nass. Tiie streak is an optical artifact. 

nodels of star formation show that at 
ibout 1 50 billion billion billion kilograms 
about 8 percent of the Sun's mass), a col- 
apsing gas cloud will reach a high enough 
iressure and temperature in its core to ini- 
late and sustain the thermonuclear fusion 
)f hydrogen into helium — a star is born. 

At lesser masses, even if fusion starts, it 
;annot be sustained, and you get a gaseous 
;orpse — a star is not born. While the dis- 
.niction between legitimate stars and 
Drown dwarfs is clear, the distinction be- 
■^ween brown dwarfs and large gaseous 
planets may be nothing more than seman- 
rics. Some of the best evidence that Gliese 
229B is indeed a brown dwarf comes from 
the analyses of spectra, which revealed the 
orb's chemical composition. The assort- 
ment of molecules in the brown dwarf's 
outer gaseous layers greatly resembles what 

s is found in the atmos- 
= phere of Jupiter. At the 
i relatively low surface 
I temperatures of brown 
Q dwarfs and planets 
I (below about 1,000 
I kelvins, or 1,300° F), 
1 oxygen atoms, for ex- 
ample, can combine 
with hydrogen atoms to 
make the familiar water 
molecule (H/J). And 
carbon atoms can com- 
bine with hydrogen 
atoms to make methane 
(CH4) — perhaps better 
known as the flammable 
"natural" gas used in 
household stoves. 

To be fair to brown 
dwarfs, those that are 
newly formed are quite 
hot in their center, and 
they radiate their energy 
into space. Over time 
they cool significantly, 
becoming much dim- 
mer, and their detectability is severely 
compromised. The best place to fish for 
them is among stars that were born yester- 
day (that is, only several hundred miUion 
years ago), because the brown dwarfs in 
those regions wiU be at their brightest. 

When our solar system formed five bil- 
lion years ago, planets likely condensed 
from a rotating "circumstellar" disk of gas. 
As the rotating proto-Sun contracted, it 
spun faster under the same laws of physics 
that describe why drawing both arms in- 
ward wiU force an ice skater to spin faster. 
While the skater's body parts will usually 
hold together during the performance, a 
rapidly rotating gas cloud will spin off 
some of the material at its equator into a 
disk. This basic scenario neatly explains 
why all planets orbit in roughly the same 
plane and direction and why they all move 

in near circular orbits around the Sun. 

For our solar system, the Sun captured 
more than 99 percent of the available mass, 
and the subsequently formed planets grew 
to be no bigger than the amount of mate- 
rial they swept clean from the gaseous disk. 
This may place an upper limit on the 
masses of planets as we know them. Con- 
sider that (1) all the mass in all the known 
asteroids of the asteroid belt and the entire 
solar systems amounts to less than the mass 
of Earth's Moon; (2) all the mass of all the 
planets, except Jupiter, amounts to less 
than the mass of Jupiter; (3) all the mass of 
all the planets and all the asteroids does not 
amount to a hill of beans compared with 
one middle-size brown dwarf. Then how 
do you make a brown dwarf? We may 
need another mechanism. 

If the formation of our solar system was 
not peculiar, then a brown dwarf may have 
to form out of its own condensed ball of 
gas rather than from the leftovers of a star. 
Its mass would no longer be restricted, and 
its orbit around a companion star need not 
resemble a circle. A gap in the brown 
dwarf^planet mass sequence would owe its 
existence to an as yet unknown difference 
in the two formation mechanisms. In any 
case, if the surface temperature of an orb of 
gas falls below about 1,000 kelvins, we ex- 
pect many similarities with gaseous planets 
in molecule-forming abilirv'. 

Clues to the early history of planet for- 
mation from disks may or may not be 
gleaned from the study of brown dwarfe. 
The range in mass of cosmic orbs may in- 
deed have genuine gaps. But other factual 
information about objects in orbit around 
stars — orbit shapes, chemical composition, 
masses, sizes, relative distances — \\\\\ allow 
us to know how and where we fit into the 
cosmic garden ot planetary systems. 

Neil dc Grassc Tyson is an astrophysicist with a 
joint appointment at the Haydcn Planctarhmi 
and at Princeton University. 

S. c i e fl c e LJ i- 1 e 

Tornado ^y^-^t(^J^ 

Camcorders inherit 
the wind 

By Roger L.Welsch 

This rime of the year, Linda plumps the 
pillows, Antonia hauls in a new supply of 
comfort toys, I install new batteries in the 
radio in our tornado shelter, and we all 
sleep in our best pajamas so the rescue 
squad won't think us common when they 
dig us out ot the rubble. 

In former times, the Plains storm cellar 
was outside the house rather than under 
the stairs, and the first person entering the 
shelter, no matter how imminent the dis- 
aster, carried in the family ax. In those 
days of slow'er communications, it was the 
possible embarrassment of being found 
dead in the cellar a week or so after the 
tornado — safe from the storm but unable 
to chop your way out through the house 
that had unfortunately fallen onto the cel- 
lar door — that promised posthu- . 
mous humiUation. «■ 

I've only seen one tornado. It | 
was high in the sky over a f 
Wyoming field where my Uncle ^. 
Fred was picking corn. I ran to | 
him, pointing to the sk\^ and veiling 5 
that he'd better find shelter. He s 
pointed to the unpicked cornfield 
and continued along his way. I'm 
not that sanguine. I fear twisters, 
and every time I mention the 
dreaded w^ord "tornado," I repeat 
the mantra, "Only seen one. hope 
never to see another." But I must 
confess that fear is not my first reac- 
tion when tornado season comes 
around; it's fascination. 

.My o^^Tl ambivalence surprises 
me. \^Tiile wife Linda, daughter 
Antonia. and black lab Luckv 
cower under the stairs — the onh 
sensible place to be when the sk\- 
turns yellow, \\-inds stop dead, a 

wall of black comes sweeping at astonish- 
ing speed over the hill to the south^vest, 
and the sirens in town scream their warn- 
ing — I stand on the back porch, watching 
the drama. Sometimes I manage to extract 
myself firom the meteorologically mduced 
trance and flee the hailstones and wind for 
the safet\' of the shelter, insofar as Luck\' 
has left any room. But more than hkely. 
Linda comes to the door and says some- 
thing diplomatic like, "Get in here, you 
idiot. I'm not ready to be a widow. Yet." 

I'd probably share Linda's concern about 
my sanity but there are people even crazier 
than me — people who drive frantically 
around the countn'side looking for torna- 
does. They call themselves "chasers," and 
they even have a regular publication, 
Storwtrack. While ever^'one else is fleeing 
from storms, diving into shelters, showing 
common sense, chasers drive in directions 
that \\t11 put them in conjunction with 
twdsters, all the while insisting that they are 
not just thriU-seekers. Using maps, radios. 


and scanners, they seek the ultimate exhil- 
aration of seeing a tornado close at hand, 
hearing its guttural growl, and best of all, 
capturing it on videotape. 

A few years ago, perhaps the only clear 
image we had ot a tornado consisted of the 
remarkably good screen effects ot the tor- 
nado that swept Dorothy and Toto away 
from Auntie Em's Kansas farm. Now, the 
proliferation of privately owned video 
cameras means that scarcely a tornado goes 
by without an amateur cinematographer 
capturing it on tape; it \\inds up on local 
or national television — houses exploi 
trees uprooted, roofi Hfnng, debris flying, 
Hves destroyed. Shouldn't a sensitive guy 
Hke me be appalled by such scenes? So 
why do I yeU. "Linda, Linda, come look at 
this! Wow! Antonia, look!" And we all 
three stand there staring at the screen, 
slack-jawed, utterly captivated by the sight 
of devastation, always grateful the scene 
happened somewhere else, and awestruck 
by the power of this . . . this entirs. 

I suspect that's part of the fasci- 
nation: this power is not an idea or 
syndrome or complex, but a thing. 
I suppose a bHzzard is a "thing" 
too, and so is a flood, but they're so 
big that they're hard to conceptu- 
ahze. Even though satellite pic- 
tures now let us see hurricanes as 
discrete spirals — growdng, Uving, 
and dying — our limited vision, 
and maybe our hmited minds, can 
more easily grasp the unity of a 
tornado. And its power. A blizzard 
or flood can cause biUions ot dol- 
lars of damage, and the winds of a 
hurricane are fierce, but they lack 
the tornado's concentration — the 
200-mile-an-hour winds packed 
into a quarter-mile wide, mile- 
high funnel. 

There is also the inevitable ^ 
capriciousness, even per\-ersity, of 
tornadoes. You know the stories — 
this brick house destroved while ! 


he camper's tent only a, few feet away 
tands undamaged, farm machinery car- 
ied hundreds of yards and left as unidenti- 
iable wads of scrap metal while a baby is 
ipped from a shattered house and de- 
)osited unharmed on a haystack hundreds 
)f yards away. 

Folklore is rife with such ironies. A 
armer nails a bag of seed corn to his barn 
jvall, hit later that day by a tornado; the 
jag is ripped away, but the corn is left 
langing there. Newly dug fence-post 
doles are wrenched from the ground by a 
lornado and rolled across a pasture fuU of 
cactus, where they are torn up so badly 
ihey won't hold dirt anymore. After a tor- 
lado has passed, a farmer finds a rooster 
irapped inside a crockery jug; when the 
farmer breaks the jug, he solves the mys- 
tery, finding that the handle is now also in- 
ide the jug — the twister's suction appar- 
ently turned the jug inside out, and the 
anfortunate rooster, standing too near the 
lUg, was enfolded inside. 

One tale teUs of the farm couple asleep 
jne night \¥hen a tornado sweeps through, 
destroying their house and carrying them, 
n their bed, a couple of hundred yards 
lownwind, finally depositing them unin- 
ured in a pasture alongside their cows. 
rhe lady cries and screams and howls 
while the farmer tries to comfort her: "It's 
bkay, darling. The storm is passed. The 
louse is gone but we're all right, and that's 
what counts. Calm down. Don't be 
ifiraid." Whereupon she responds, "No, 
.10, I'm not afraid. I'm just so happy. This 
IS the first time we've been out together in 

While that tale has a happy ending, Ne- 
ibraskans tell cautionary stories about the 
tornado of 1975 that swept through 
Omaha on a weekday noon along busy 
72d Street, site of many motels. This re- 
sulted not only in immense physical dam- 
age but also a lot of divorce court action, 
when all sorts of folks had to explain just 
how exactly they wound up in a state of 
idishabille in a roofless motel room with a 
secretary, boss, colleague, or associate, 
their cars crushed in the parking lot. 

I was curious for years that I encoun- 
tered no references to tornadoes in Native 
American lore, until an Omaha friend 
pointed out to me that principal figures 

throughout that tribe's mythology are the 
mighty, fearsome, mysterious powers 
known only as the Thunderers. Sounds 
like tornadoes to me! 

Apart from lore, we now can enjoy the 
inevitable American commercial e.xploita- 
tion of tornadoes, a force not even they 
can resist. With the video Tornadoes! (Nor- 
man Berger Productions) — sixty minutes 
of explosive action, with dramatic back- 
ground music and the resonant narration 
of E. G. Marshall — you can witness the 
fury and majesty of tornadoes in the safety 
and comfort of your firont room — not un- 
hke watching the comedy of Roseanne. 
Or maybe like me you'U prefer Tornado 
Video Classics (from The Tornado Project, 
which incidentally also oifers a set of tor- 
nado posters so stunning they put the only 
possible wonders-of-nature poster rival, 
Claudia Schiffer, to shame). I like it be- 
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T hi S';^^V:i'& W-,'Qf 'Li f e ■ ■ "N'ai'u'cal'tfi'iVd'r 

(Continued from page 23) 
by noting that these deep-sea bacteria 
grow at a heat exceeding the title of Ray 
Bradbury's famous story Fahrenheit 451 — 
the temperature at which paper ignites 
(and thought can therefore be more easily 
controlled by destruction of radical htera- 
ture). Pressure is the key to an otherwise 
paradoxical situation. Life needs Uquidity 
not necessarily coolness. At the enormous 
pressures of the sea floor, water does not 
boil at temperatures tolerated by these 
bacteria. Baross and Deming end their ar- 
ticle by noting: 

Tliese resuhs substantiate the hypothesis 
that microbial growth is Umited not by 
temperatures but by the existence of liquid 
water, assuming that all other conditions 
necessary for life are provided. Tliis greatly 
increases the number of environments and 
conditions both on Earth and elsewhere in 
the Universe where life can exist. 

Then, in the early 1990s, several groups 
of scientists found and cultured bacteria 
from oil drilhngs and other environments 
beneath oceans and continents — thus indi- 
cating that bacteria may Uve generally in 
the earth's interior, and not only in hmited 
areas where superheated waters emerge at 
the surface. These bacterial "homes" in- 
cluded four oil reservoirs nearly tsvo miles 
below the bed of the North Sea and below 
the permafrost surface of Alaska's North 
Slope; a Swedish borehole nearly four 
miles deep; and tour wells about a mile 
down in France's East Paris Basin. Water 
migrates extensively through cracks and 
joints in subsurface rocks, and even 
through pore spaces between grains of sed- 
iments themselves (an important property 
of rock, known as "porosity" and vital to 
the oU industry as a natural mechanism for 
concentratmg underground liquids — and, 
as it now appears, bacteria as well). Thus, 
although such data do not indicate global 
pervasiveness or interconnectivity of sub- 
surface bacterial biotas, we certainly must 
entertain the proposirion that much of the 
earth deep beneath our feet teems with 
microbial hfe. 

The most obvious and serious caution 
in these data emerges from another general 
property of bacteria: their almost ineradi- 

cable ubiquity. How do we know that 
these bacteria, cultured from waters col- 
lected at depth, really live in these under- 
ground environments? Perhaps they were 
introduced into deeper waters by machin- 
ery used to dig the oil weUs and bore 
holes; perhaps (with even more trepida- 
tion) they just represent contamination 
from ubiquitous and ordinary bacteria of 
our surface environments, stubbornly liv- 
ing in laboratories despite all attempts to 
carry out experiments in sterile condi- 
tions. (A fascinating, and very long, book 
could be \vritten about remarkable claims 
for bacteria in odd places — on meteorites, 
Uving in geological dormancy within 400- 
million-year-old salt deposits — which 
turned out to be ordinary surface contam- 
inants. I well remember the first "proven" 
extraterrestrial hfe on meteorites, later ex- 
posed as ragweed pollen. Ah-choo!) 

This well-known possibihty sends shiv- 
ers down the spine ot any scientist. I am no 
expert and cannot make any general state- 
ment. I would not doubt (and neither do 
the authors of these articles) that some re- 
ports may be based on contamination. But 
all known and possible precautions have 
been taken, and best procedures for assur- 
ing sterihty have been followed. Most per- 
suasively, many of the bacteria isolated 
from these deep environments are anaero- 
bic hyperthermophiles (jargon for bacteria 
living at very high temperatures in the ab- 
sence of oxygen), which can thrive in sub- 
terranean conditions and cannot be labo- 
ratory contaminants because they die in 
ordinary surface environments of "low" 
temperature, pressure, and abundant oxy- 

We might ask one frirther question that 
would cinch the case for underground 
ubiquity: moving away from the special- 
ized environments of deep-sea vents and 
oil reservoirs, do bacteria also live more 
generally in ordinary rocks and sediments 
(provided that some water seeps through 
joints and pore spaces)? New data from the 
mid-1990s seem to answer this most gen- 
eral question in the affirmative as well. 

In 1994, R.J. Parks and colleagues [Na- 
ture, vol. 371) found abundant bacteria in 
ordinary sediments of five Pacific Ocean 
sites at depths up to 1,800 feet. Mean- 
while, the United States Department of 

Energy, under the leadership of Frank j| 
Wobber, had been digging deep wells to 
monitor contamination of ground wateJ 
from both inorganic and potentially miJ 
crobial sources (done largely to learn ilit 
bacteria might affect the storage of nucleaijj 
wastes in deep repositories!). Wobber';*! 
group, taking special pains to avoid the risk 
of contamination from surface bacteria in- 
troduced into the holes, found bacterial 
populations in at least six sites, including a: 
boring in Virginia at 9,180 feet under the 

William J. Broad wrote an article on this, 
work for the New York Times (October 4, 't' 
1994) expressing justifiable excitement in 
journahstic terms: 

Fiction writers have fantasized about it. 
Prominent scientists have theorized about it. 
Experimentalists have delved into it. 
Skeptics have ridiculed it. But for decades, 
nobody has had substantial evidence one 
way or another on the question of whether 
the depths of the rocky earth harbor 
anything that could be considered part of the 
spectacle of life — until now. . . . Swarms of 
microbial life thrive deep within the planet. 

In 1995. T. O. Stevens and J. P McKin- 
ley then described rich bacterial commu- 
nities Hving more than 3,000 feet below 
the surface in rocks of the Columbia River 
basalts, in the northwestern United States. 
These bacteria seem to extract energy 
from hydrogen produced in a reacrion be- 
tween minerals of the basaltic rocks and 
ground water seeping through. Thus, hke 
the biotas of the deep-sea vents, these bac- 
teria hve on energy from the earth's inte- 
rior, entirely independent of the photo- 
synthetic, and ultimately solar, base of all 
conventional ecosystems. To confirm their 
findings in the field, Stevens and McKin- 
ley mixed crushed basalt with water free 
from dissolved oxygen. This mixture did 
generate hydrogen. They then sealed basalt 
together with ground waters containing 
the deep bacteria. In these laboratory con- 
ditions, simularing the natural situation at 
depth, the bacteria thrived for up to a year 
(T. O. Stevens and J. R McKinley "Litho- 
autotrophic Microbial Ecosystems in Deep 
Basalt Aquifers," Science, 1995, vol. 270). 
Jocelyn Kaiser, writing a comment for Sci- 

w— -■ 


ncc magazine on the work of Stevens and 
v/lcKinley, used a provocative title: "Can 
)eep Bacteria Live on Nothing but Rocks 
nd Water?" The answer seems to be 

My coDeague Tom Gold, of Cornell 
Jniversity, may be one of America's most 
conoclastic scientists. (One prominent bi- 
ilogist, who shall remain nameless, once 
jid to me that Gold ought to be buried 
leep withm the earth along with aU his 
lutative bacteria.) But no one sells Gold 
hort or refuses to take him seriously — for 
le has been right far too often (if we don't 
car a man, we don't threaten to bury him 

In a remarkable article entitled "The 
)eep, Hot Biosphere" and published in 
he prestigious Proceedings of the National 
{aideniy of Sciences in 1992, Gold set out 
he full case for the importance of bacter- 
al biotas deep within the earth. Of all liv- 
iig things that might expand the range of 
[fe beyond conventional habitats ot land 
nd oceans, bacteria are the obvious candi- 
lates. They are small enough to fit nearly 
nywhere, and their environmental range 
asdy exceeds that of all other organisms. 
3old writes: "Of all the forms of life that 
\e now know, bacteria appear to represent 
he one that can most readily utihze en- 
■rgy from a great variety of chemical 

Gold then makes an estimate of possible 
lacterial biomass, given the vast expansion 
if range into rocks and fluids of the earth's 
iiterior. His effort belongs to a genre that 
ve call "back of the envelope" calculations 
nd must be treated with appropriate cau- 
ion. A large number of assumptions must 
je made — how deep do bacteria live? at 
Ivhat temperatures? how much of rock 
TOlume consists of pore space where bac- 
teria may live in percolating waters? how 
many bacteria can these waters hold? Since 
A^e do not know the actual values for any. 
>f these key factors, we must make "most 
xasonable" estimates. If actual values dif- 
fer greatly from these estimates, then the 
anal figure may be way off the mark. 

Gold based his figure for total bacterial 
jiomass on reasonable, even fairly conser- 
vative, estimates for key factors — so if most 
^•Qcks permeable by water do contain bac- 
;eria, then his figure is probably in the 

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right ballparli. (And if most appropriate 
rocks don't contain bacteria, then he is 
wrong.) Gold assumes an upper tempera- 
ture range of 230° to 300° F and a depth 
limit of three to six miles. (If bacteria actu- 
ally live deeper, their biomass might be 
much higher.) He calculates the mass of 
water available for bacterial hfe by assum- 
ing that about 3 percent of rock volume 
consists of pore spaces. Finally, he esti- 
mates that bacterial mass might equal 
about 1 percent of the total mass of avail- 
able underground water. 

Putting all these estimates together. 
Gold calculates a potential mass of under- 
ground bacteria at 2 X lO''' tons. This fig- 
ure, he writes, is equivalent to a layer five 
feet thick spread out over the earth's entire 
land surface — an amount of biomass. Gold 
states, that would "indeed be more than 
the existing surface flora and fauna." As a 
cautious conclusion to his calculation of 
underground bacterial biomass. Gold 

We do not know at present how to make a 
realistic estimate of the subterranean mass of 
material now living, but all that can be said 
is that one must consider it possible that it is 
comparable to all the living mass at the 

So Mrs. Anker's second saw may be 
wrong as well. We have long accepted the 
"evident" fact that most earthly biomass 
Ues in the wood of our forest trees. Gold's 
case for a potentially greater weight in un- 
derground bacteria wUl, if validated, rep- 
resent a major revision of conventional bi- 
ology. But Gold takes his argument one 
striking step further. We are now fairly 
certain that ordinary hfe exists nowhere 
else in our solar system — for no other 
planetary surface maintains appropriate 
conditions of temperature and liquid 
water. Moreover, such earthly surface con- 
ditions are probably rare in the universe, 
making life an unusual cosmic phenome- 
non. But the environment of the earth's 
shallow interior — liquid flowing through 
cracks and pore spaces in rocks — may be 
quite common on other worlds, both in 
our solar system and elsewhere. In fact. 
Gold estimates that "there are at least ten 
other planetary bodies [including several 

moons of the giant planets] in our solai 
system that would have had a simila: 
chance for originating microbial life" be- 
cause "the circumstances in the interior oi 
most of the solid planetary bodies wUl not 
be too different firom those at a depth of a 
few kilometers in the Earth." 

Finally, we may need to make a com- 
plete reversal of our usual perspective and 
consider the possibility that our conven- 
tional surface hfe, based on photosynthesis, 
might be a very peculiar, even bizarre, 
manifestation of a common universal phe- 
nomenon usually expressed by life at bac- 
terial grade in the shallow interior of plan- 
etary bodies. Gold concludes: 

The surface life on the Earth, based on 
photosynthesis, for its overall energy supply, 
may be just one strange branch of life, an 
adaptation specific to a planet 
that happened to have such favorable 
circumstances on its surface as would occur 
only very rarely: a favorable atmosphere, a 
suitable distance from an illuminating star, a 
mix of water and rock surface, etc. The 
deep, chemically supplied life, however, may 
be very common in the universe. 






I didn't mean to upset you with all these 
reversals of conventional wisdom, the 
demise of Mrs. Anker's saws — life not 
based on solar energy, bacteria potentially 1" 
more weighty than trees. But, surely, we aU 
realize in honest moments that bacteriaPii 
rule the earth — so why deny them the 
universe as well? They alone occupied half 
the history of life; they are indestructible 
and live everywhere that life can survive. 
They were in the beginning, are now, and 
ever shall be the dominant forms of life on 
Earth — until the sun explodes and swal- 
lows the whole planet. So don't fret; but, 
above all, don't upset them! Just be calm, 
go into the kitchen and take out an Oreo 
cookie or even two. Don't you dare reach 
into the refrigerator for that botde of milk!' 
You really can ingest one without the fl 
other. Call it liberation. 

Stephen Jay Gould teaches biology, geology, and 
the history of science at Harvard University. He 
is also Frederick P. Rose Hotiorary Curator in] 
Invertebrates at the American Museum of Nat- 
ural History. 




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AUGUST 1996 

filif[nPSSlra?Pl' 800-368-2794x404 

camping safaris in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Zim- 
babwe, Botswana, Namibia. Kilimanjaro climbs, gorilla 
tracking, more. Also, unique tours in Egypt, Israel, 
Turkey, Jordan, Syria. Free color catalogs. Himalayan 
Travel, (800) 225-2380, 24 hours. 

rilla safaris to East and Southern Africa. Also Egypt, 
India, Burma, Around the World trips etc. Our 12th year. 
Call Wanderlust Advenhires at (800) 572-1592. 

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Africa featuring Ranch/Private Home Safaris, Box 
ji49,Mt.Tremper,NY 12457 1-800-724-1221. 

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' group journeys, from wUdemess kayaking, dog sled- 

, I ding, and rafting, to lodge based sightseeing tours. 

[.Adventure Alaska, color brochure: (800) 365-7057. 

Costa Rica -Belize -Africa -Galapagos 

Natural historv 
TRIPS Worldwide 
Since 1982 
P.O. Box 3656-Ct3 
SONORA, CA 95370 




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waiting to be experienced by you. Otters, seals, ea- 
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hiking, kayaking, fishing for saknon, halibut and 
I trout. Naturalist guides. Exquisite log lodge and cozy 
I cabins in peaceful ocean and mountain setting. Fine 
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ling. Naturalist-guided trips from our basecamp fac- 
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Season. PO. Box 1313-NH, Valdez, AK 99686. (907) 





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' Moderate optional lengtl-i Day hiking. Free brochure. 
! (216) 867-3771. Alpine Adventure Trails Tours, 783P 

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ing company for expedition traveL since 1981. Indi- 
vidual attention. Regional references available. (800) 

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camping safaris, lodge stays, and island resorts in 
New Zealand's scenic National Parks and Milford 
Track; Australia's Outback, Tropical North, and Great 
Barrier Reef. Pacific Exploration Co., Box 3042-N, 
Santa Barbara, CA 93130 (805) 687-7282. 


You, 9 other odventurers and our licensed 
naturalist will soil by yacht to explore more islands 
than any other Galapagos expedition. 60 trip 
dates. Machu Picchu option. Free brochure. 

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1 31 1 -N 63rd St., Emeryville CA 94608 

explore on your own. Free Brochures: ROW 1-800- 

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ANASAZI TOURS-July 1996. El Morro, Canyon de 
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Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Bandelier 914-366-7834 

land discovery guidebook for walkers, hikers, bikers, 
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background and h-avel information. $19.95 includes 
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full color brochure. Advenhires Abroad 1-800-665- 

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CRUISE TURKEY Twelve-day yacht tours of history 
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Rica, more with the California Native. Call 1-800- 
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AUo trips to: 
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Call for Cat.\loc. 


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SOUTH & CENTRAL AMERICA: Overland & nat- 
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trekking. Free color catalog. Himalayan Tra\'el. 1- 


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Rates and Style Information 

$4.05 per word: 16 word minimum. Displa\^ classi- 
fied is $440 per inch. Ad\-ertisements must be pre- 
paid. Rates are not struchired for agency or cash dis- 
counts. Ad\'ertisements are accepted at NATL'RAL 
HISTORY'S discretion. Send check or monev order 
to: The Market/NATURAL HISTORY Magazine. 
Cenh-al Park West at 79th St., New York, NY' 10024. 
Direct any written inquiries to Eileen O'Keefe or 
Jean-Christophe Fradet at the above address. 


.Mo me n t 

Photograph by Roger Eriksson 

Our own anatomy is often a . 
poor guide to the behaxdor of 
other animals, particularly 
those in other phyla. Clinging 
to an intertidal outcrop of 
basalt in the Galapagos, this 
Sally Lightfoot crab {Grapsus 
grapsiis) appears to be squirting 
two jets of water from its 
mouth. But those conversant 
with crustacean body plans 
know that the animal is merely 
reheving itselt. 

According to Tom and 
Donna Wolcott, professors of 
marine science at North Car- 
ohna State University in 
Raleigh, the crab is equipped 
with two antenna! glands — 
equivalent to our kidneys and 
bladder — so named because 
their duct openings are adja- 
cent to the animal's antennae. 
These glands allow the crab to 
adjust its fluid volume and also 
to fine-tune the balance of 
various ions circulating in the 
its blood, expeUing some, such 
as sulfate, and retaining others, 
such as potassium. But unlike 
analogous organs in land- 
dweUing ardmals, the antenna! 
glands do not remove waste 
nitrogen. In crustaceans, that 
job is handled by the gills, 
■where ammonia is diffused 
across a thin membrane — an 
adaptation well suited to 
largely aquatic animals. 

Whether the crab uses the 
spray defensively is unlcnown, 
but it often squirts when dis- 
turbed — a behavior many ani- 
mals have evolved. In this case, 
however, the photographer 
was observing the crab (one of 
many scavenging and grazing 
on algae in the intertidal zone) 
from a distance ^vhen he hap- 
pened to catch the action. 
— Robert Anderson 

Hisiory- 3/96 The N a t u c^vl / 'M m 


Flat-spired three-toothed land snail, West Virginia 


ral History 3/96 

At 't'li.e^ A:niB'rlc-a'ft W'uiste'. 

Democracy of 


'(4n exhibition of photographs by Susan 
Middkton and David Liittschwaga; 
mtitled "Witness: Endangered Species of 
\orth America," will be in Gallery 77 
irom March 22 until October 6, 1996. 

By Mark Jerome Walters 

Dodo: Extinct, 1680s. 
Great Auk: Extinct, 1840s. 
Passenger Pigeon: Extinct, 1914. 
Dusky Seaside Sparrow: Extinct, 1987. 

The Greek scholar Dionysius of Hali- 
carnassus said that history is philosophy 
learned from examples. What does the pas- 
senger pigeon say to us? What does the 
great auk whisper? Can the dodo tell us 
anything we do not already know? Perhaps 
these extinct animals can help us consider 
those still alive but threatened with extinc- 
tion, such as the Florida key deer, the flat- 
spired three-toothed land snail, or any of 
the growing list of endangered species. 

We now have an economic philosophy. 
We have a philosophy of government. But 
we have yet to develop a philosophy of car- 
ing for nonhuman life. We have barely 
learned to grieve. How do we chart a pos- 
itive course from a history of annihilation? 
Numbers alone are no assurance against 
extinction. Abundance should not reduce 
an animal's value in our eyes. Ten million 
bison on a western plain are no less deserv- 

Florida key deer 

ing of our protective care than the last 
twenty in a zoo. 

Science can teach us cause and effect, 
but only philosophy can teach the mean- 
ing of kinship, that interconnectedness 
means more than mere mutual depen- 
dency. The extinction of the dusky seaside 
sparrow teaches us that outward jour- 
neys — even to the moon — can never take 
us as far as inward ones; that searching is 
different fi-om seeking; and that facts about 
the universe are no substitute for a philos- 
ophy of caring for life on earth. They all 
teach us that to preserve animals we must 
first preserve the multitude of habitats in 
which they live. 

Even when the battle to save an endan- 
gered species is lost, poignant lessons 
emerge. The litany of extinctions can 
teach us how to feel about loss of species. 
We mourn the death of an individual, but 
no rituals mark the passing of a species. 
Colorado State University philosopher 
Holmes Rolston III wrote, "Extinction 
kills essences beyond existences — the soul 
as well as the body. To superkill a species is 
to shut down a story of millennia and leave 
no future possibilities." 

If we are unaware of the examples that 
matter most, how are we to find a philos- 
ophy that matters at all? If Dionysius is 
right, even as many species become en- 
dangered, a philosophy of caring — learned 
from the examples of loss — is still some- 
thing we have every reason to hope tor. 
For what is philosophy but lessons learned 
the hard way? 

Mark Icroiiic Walters is a veterinarian, a 
teacher, and a writer. This essay has been 
adapted from his article in the November /De- 
cendtcr issue of Sanctuary, the journal oj the 
Massachussetts Audubon Society. 

Atint!fi'6. ^TnefJC-an' Museum 

March Events 

March 3 I 

As part of the Education Departments I 
year-long lecture and performance series | 
"Di\ine Magic," the film Tlie Witch Hum I 
\\"ill be sho\\Ti on Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Call 
(212) 769-5315 for information. 

March 4 

As part of the ""Frontiers in Astronomy and 
Astrophysics" series at the Planetarium. 
John Huchra, professor of astronomy at 
the Har\-ard-Smithsonian Center for As- 
trophysics, wiU give a sHde-illustrated talk, 
"The Age and Fate of the Universe," at 
7:30 P..M. Tickets are S8 (S6 for members). 
For information, call (212) 769-5900. 

March 7, 14, 22, 28 

In conjunction with the exhibition 
"Amber: Window to the Past." a four-part 
lecture series will explore the nature and 
art of amber. The talks begin at 7:00 P.M. 
in the Kaufinann Theater. Tickets for the 
series are $25. A private \aewing of the ex- 
hibition is scheduled for 5:45 P.-M. on 
March 14 for ticket holders. For informa- 
tion, call (212) 769-5310. 

March 7, 14, 21, 28 and 
April 1 1 

WUdflowers of the northeastern United 
States \\t11 be the subject of tive Thursday- 
evening lectures to be given at 7:00 P.M. by 
WOham SchiUer. lecturer in botany in the 
Deparmient of Education. He will give 
the same talks on five consecutive Monday 
afternoons, starting on March 4 at 2:30 
p..\i. For details, call (212) 769-5310. 

March 7, 14,21, 28 

The reUgions of Brazil, the Caribbean, and 
the United States \\tU be discussed on four 
Thursday evenings at 7:00 P.M. Tickets are 
$25 for the series. Call (212) 769-5310 for 

March 13 

Naturalist Robert McCracken Peck, a fel- 
low of Philadelphia's Academy of Natural 
Sciences, wiU talk at 7:00 p.m. about his re- 
cent trip to Mongolia, where he explored 

Bluc-iailcd mole skiiik. :ciiti\il FLvidj 

Lake Hovgol and the remote Darhaad 
Basm. For details, call (212) 769-5606. 

March 19 and 26 

On t\vo Tuesday evenings at 7:00 P.M., 
Robert S. Grumet. a National Park Ser- 
\'ice archeologist, wiU talk about early 
contact between Native American, Euro- 
pean, and African peoples in the north- 
eastern United States. Tickets are SI 5. For 
details, call (212) 769-5310. 

March 20 

The Planetarium \\"iU host "Poetry in 
Pubhc Places: Poetry Under the Stars." at 
7:30 P.M. in the Guggenheim Space The- 
ater. Tickets are 88 (36 for members). Call 
(212) 769-5900 for more details. 

March 21 

California Academy of Sciences photogra- 
phers Susan Middleton and Da\-id Liitt- 
sch^vager will discuss their three-year pro- 
ject, "Witness: Endangered Species of 
North America." The talk \\t11 take place 
in the Main Auditorium at 7:00 P.M. An 
exhibition of their photographs opens in 
Ga]ler\- 77 on Friday, March 22. Call (212) 
769-5606 for information. 

March 23 

.Morocco, a dancer and leading authorii 
on ethnic dance forms, will perform tradi- 
tional Middle Eastern and North Afiic 
dances with her troupe, the Casbah Danci 
Experience, at 2:00 P..M. in the Kautrn: 
Theater. Call (212) 769-5606 for details. 

March 24 

At 3:00 P.M.. Kent R. Weeks, an Eg^'ptol- 
ogist at the American University' in Cairo 
wih discuss the recent discover\' and exca-i 
vation of a royal burial site from the reign 
of Ramses II, between 1279 and 1212 B.C. 
Call (212) 769-5606 for information 

March 27 

Drawing from his recently published 
book. The Keandertal Enigma, James: 
Shreeve wall talk about these early human? 
at 7:00 PM. in the Kaufinann Theater. Call! 
(212) 769-5606 for information. 

Throughout March, 

which is International WomenS Historyt 
Month, a variers" ot free programs will be 
presented as part of the series "'Multicul- 
tural Mosaic: Traditions of a Diverse Soci- 
ety-." For a schedule, call (212) 769-5315. 

For inlormation about the Planetarium's 
Sky Show, ""Cosmic Mind Bogglers: A 
Tour of Astronomical Extremes," and 
other events, call (212) 769-5100. The Ed- 
ucation Department will conduct work- 
shops for adults and children on subjects 
ranging from animal drawdng to forensic 
science. Nature walks in Central Park, cul- 
tural tours of New York Cit\- neighbor- 
hoods, and trips to Cape May, Cape Cod, 
and the Dela\\-are Valley are also sched- 
uled. CaU (212) 769-5310 for a complete 
Usting. The Museums IMAX Theater is 
currendy featuring Stormcliasers, Destiny in 
Space, and Titanica. Call (212) 769-5200 
for show times. These events take place at 
the American Museum of Natural History, 
Central Park West at 79th Street in New 
York Cit)'. For more information about 
the Museum's hours and admission fees, 
call (212) 769-5100. 

Endangered Africa: 

An Exploration by Private Jet of 

Africa's Cultural and Wildlife Treasures 

January 13 - February 4, 1997 

The range and diversity of life on 
the African continent is perhaps the 
most extraordinary on earth. 
Beginning with the American 
Museum of Natural History's first 
expedition to Africa in 1906, the 
wildlife and cultures of this 
mysterious continent have been 
intensely studied by Museum 
scientists. Nowhere else on earth 
can one find the great herds of big 
game roaming freely on the plains, 
as they have for thousands of years, 
or the many extraordinary cultures 
that for centuries remained a secret 
to the rest of the world. 

Today, Africa's cultural and wildlife 
treasures are in peril, and even with 
encouraging efforts and advances 
by many African leaders, protecting 
all of Africa's living creatures 
remains a struggle. Habitat 
destruction and the consequent loss 
of biodiversity remain the greatest 
single threat to both indigenous 
peoples and wildlife. 

Tunisia • Etiiiopia • Victoria Falls • South Africa • Cameroon • Mali • Marrakech 

Discovery Tours 

American Museum of 

Central Park West at 79th St., New York, NY 10024 
Toll-free: 800-462-8687 New York: 212-769-5700 
Call for a complete list of destinations. 

will lead our 

aboard a private, _ 

specially outfitted, """^^ 

first-class Boeing 757. We 
will touch down in some of Afi-ica's 
most remote and diverse areas, 
witnessing a remarkable range of 
geography, cultures, and wildlife. 
We will also examine current 
conservation practices and explore 
the complex problems and issues 
with the inspiring leaders who are 
committed to protecting Africa's 
irreplaceable resources. 

They say in thirty years 

a ^urger & fries could cost $16, 

Natural his 




Received on: 02-16- 


Ref 5. 06 (74. 7) Ml 


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Ensurins the future 

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1 STO RYi 




fV. 105 

ino. 4 

(April 1996J 

^>.AV ■■■ 



ly Revisited |i 








\ ■-• 

A family goes fossil hunting 

the Badlands 


It used to be some stretch of the imagination to think a station wagon could ever dehver the ride, handhng and comfort of ; , - 
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fl^i^^^— ■ ■■ 


April 1996 Volume 105 Number 4 

Beins There: The Travel Issue 

24 Maya Resurrection 

In Honduras s new Maya museum, the deities 
of Copan come back to life. 
Barbara W. Fash and William L. Fash 
Photographs by Enrico FeroreUi 

32 Mushroom Mania 

Each August, mycologists — expert and amateur 
alike — gather in TeUuride, Colorado, to 
make merry with fungi. Gary Lincoff 
Photographs by Chip Simons 

36 Digging the Badlands 

A family of five goes prospecting for fossils in 
the wilds of South Dakota. Markjacobson 
Pliotogmplis byJ.L. Bulcao 

42 Troy's Prodigious Ruin 

A visit to the original site of Troy in Turkey 
shows that the city's history is still being 
written. CaroUne Alexander 

52 Written in Stone: 
A Geologist's Manhattan 

Don't lose touch with the natural world when 
you visit the big city; tag along with Museum 
geologist Sidney Horenstein. 
Drawings by Stan Mack 

Cover: The eroded cHfFs 

of the South Dakota 

Badlands tell fossil hunters 

a very old tale. 

Story on page 36. 

Photograph byJ.L. Bulcao. 

4 Up Front: Truth by Travel 

6 Letters 

8 Contributors 

Natural Selections 

1 Review: The Marvelous Adventures of 

Puc Puggy Jo5efi/i Kastner 
13 Bookshelf: Eight Picks for April 

13 Travel Friendly Robert Anderson 

14 CD-ROM: The Cartoon Guide to Physics 
Howard Topoff 

16 Naturalist at Large: Arrival of the Easter Bilby 
Timothy Flaunery 

1 8 This View of Life: Can We Truly Know Sloth 
and Rapacity? Stephen Jay Gould 

Field Guide 

58 Discovery: Biodiversity on the Borderlands 

James H. Brown and Astrid Kodric-Brown 

Celestial Events: April's Total Lunar Eclipse 

Joe Rao 

This Land: Sweet Home 

Robert H. Molilenbrock 

Travel and Reading 




68 Universe: Journey from the Center of the Sun 
Neil de Grasse Tyson 

74 Science Lite: Monkey Business Roger Welsch 

78 The Natural Moment: Bowers of BUss 
Photograph by Paul Hicks 

At The Museum of Natural History 
80 April Events 

Your an 

.ors had t 

deal with alpcw country 

xmt Great 



job shortages and 


skyrocketins inflation. 


Life was so much simpler then. 




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Natural History 4/96 

Truth by Travel 

"What killed good journalism " said one veteran journalist, "was the 
invention of the telephone." His meaning, of course, was that one 
could now get a story without ever having actually seen the place or 
met the people involved. AH the discovers; histon,-. and nature shows 
on tele\-ision, along with world\Mde computer connections, have 
done the same to travel. People can now feel famiHar \\ith a great 
many places they've never been to. While this kind of -virtual travel 
does no harm, it can leave one woefiiUy undereducated with regard to 
the basic nature of places and people. These days, by the time most 
children are sLx, they have probably "seen" Hons felUng gazelles on the 
Serengeti, herds of elephants on dusty African plains, Amazonian 
tribes, and the tropical 

Travel is fatal to prejudice, 
bigotry, and narrow- 
mindedness, and many oj our 
people need it sorely on these 
accounts. Broad, wholesome, 
charitable views of men and 
things cannot he acquired by 
veoetatino in one little corner of 
the earth all one's lifetime. 

— Mark Twain, Tlie Innocents Abroad, 1869 

rain forests of the world. 
but few can name the 
fish that hve in their 
local stream or even the 
birds that sing in their 
backV'ard trees. 

This issue of Xatiiral 
History was put together 
to inspire readers to go 
out and explore for 
themselves — to make a 
getaway from the 
virtual. We invite you 
to see Troy through 

Homeric eyes, Copan through its new Maya reconstructions, a fossil 
dig as a family matter, a forest through the fiingi at its roots. We asked 
even our regular contributors to take to the road. Stephen Jay Gould 
took away a lesson from a trip to Costa Rica. Neil de Grasse Tyson 
imagined a journey from the center of the Sun. Roger Welsch went 
to Dayton, Tennessee, for the retrial of the centur\-. And cartoonist 
Stan Mack, a new contributor to Xatural Histor)', took a geological 
myster\- tour of New York Cit\'. 

It was once impossible to travel without experiencing the nature of 
a place — the dust of its roads, the breadth of its rivers. Now one has to 
make the effort to get off the highway and out of the car. But the 
effort, as I hope this issue shows, is worthwhile. — Bruce Stutz 

H i STO R' 

The monthly magazine of the 
American Museum of Natutial History 

Bruce Stutz 

Editor in Chief 

Ellen Goldensohn 

Aianagitto Editor 

Thomas Page 


Robert B. Anderson 

Board of Editors 1 

Florence G. Edelstein ' 

Rebecca B. Finnell j 

Jenny LawTence 

Vittorio Maestro 

Richard Mihier 

Jud>' Rice 

Ka\- Zakariasen (Pictures) 

Maire Crowe 

Researdi Editor 

Lisa Salhnan 

Associate Managing Editor 

Rosaha Bonanni 

Asst. E>esigneT 

Pe^^' Con\'ersano (on leave) 

Ellen Louise Smith 

Editorial Asst. 

David Omz 

Picture Coordinator 

Carol Bamette 

Text Processor 

Roland Schenk 

Editorial Consultant 

Linda C. Cherry* 
Bari S. Edw^ards 


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6 Letters 

Natural History 4/96 

Delicate Burden 

In his article "When the 
Bough Bends" (February 
1996), Bernd Heinrich de- 
scribed how the architecture 
of fir trees allows them to sup- 
port heavy loads of ice and 
snow. In central Mexico, I too 
have observed boughs of fir 
trees bent down in winter — 

Butteiflies bending branches of fir 

trees in Mexico 

but from the weight of 
monarch butterflies rather 
than snow. For five months 
each year, miUions of mon- 
archs aggregate in a small area 
to overwinter. The short, 
needlelike leaves of oyamel fir 
trees permit the butterflies to 
cluster very tightly; hundreds 
of them fit on a single, 
sagging branch. 
Alfonso Alonso-Mejia 
Gainesville, Florida 

Truffles and Taxes 

In "Seeking the Tniffe" ("A 
Matter of Taste," January 
1996), Robb Walsh imphes 
that truffle production in 
France has not decUned but 
that truffle hunters are simply 
not reporting what they find 

in order to avoid paying in- 
come tax. I consider this a 
false interpretation. 

Land-use practices since the 
turn of the century have dras- 
tically altered the landscape in 
southern France, where black 
and other wild truflies are 
most common. Given the 
decline of agriculture and of 
livestock grazing in the area, 
an actual decline in wild 
truffle harvests would not be 
James Aronson 
Montpellier, France 

Ghana's Forests 

"Kingdom of Gold" (Febru- 
ary- 1996) was a welcome look 
at the tremendous attractions 
of Ghana. I must take excep- 
tion, however, to the author's 
statement that the creation of 
the canopy walkway in 
Kakum National Park "con- 
flicts with the day-to-day 
needs of the local farmers." 

To the contrary. Conserva- 
tion International has been 
working wdth Ghana's WUdhte 
Department to meet the pro- 
tein and income needs of 
people who Hve around the 
park. We therefore do not di- 
rect our work toward expen- 
sive experiments, such as relo- 
cation of animals (Schildkrout 
inaccurately states that "en- 
dangered forest elephants have 
been brought in" to the park). 
Instead, we work \\dth local 
people to find substitutes for 
the traditional forest products 
that were rapidly being de- 
pleted. So far we've helped es- 
tabhsh more than 200 snail- 
farming projects (snails being a 
highly prized tood item), and 
similar projects to raise "grass- 
cutters" (large cane rats native 
to the area) are in the works. 
Mari Omland 
Conservation International 
Washington, D. C. 

Enid Schildkrout replies: 
I tvelcome Mari Omland's atnpli- 
fication of Conservation 
International's role in helping 
Ghana's Wildlife Department 
protect the remaining forests in 
southern Ghana. 

By no means did I intend to 
suggest that the work 
Conservation International is 
doing in Ghana is not welcome. 
The very creation of a park like 
Kakum, as ivell as the educa- 
tional and conservation programs 
implemented by the staff at the 
Reserve, clearly serves the interests 
of the people of Ghana and con- 
tributes to the survival of our 
planet. I ivas simply trying to 
point out some of the ironies and 
difficulties involved in saving re- 
sources that have been threatened 
for so long. 

Pepsi Challenge 

I'm not from Missouri, but in 
the spirit of the show-me 
state, I tested NeU Tyson's as- 
sertion m "On Being Dense" 
("Universe," January 1996) 
that a can of Diet Pepsi floats 
in water while a can of regular 
Pepsi sinks. Did Tyson use 
heavy water? I put a can of 
each kind in a basin of water 
drawn from my well, and both 

At this juncture, however, I 
forgive Tyson the SI. 25 that 
the experiment cost. 
Bernard Steinzor 
Willow, New York 

NeU de Grasse Tyson replies: 
/ suggest that you repeat the ex- 
periment with at least seven verti- 
cal inches of water in your basin. 
Tlie tiny air pocket in regular 
Pepsi tends to right the can as it 
sinks. With less water, both cans 
will look like they are bobbing at 
an angle, when in fact the regular 
Pepsi mil always be touching the 
bottom. Uidess the laws of physics 
are different in Willow, New 

York, a deeper basin will allow 
regular Pepsi to submerge com- 
pletely in either a tilted or stand- 
ing position. Tliis experiment 
works in distilled water, ordinary 
drinking water, even ivater with a, 
high mineral content. I 

NeU de Grasse Tyson's enter-' 
taining article explores some 
apparent paradoxes of the 
density phenomenon, includ-j 
ing "the greatest mystery of 
them all: [that] an unopened 
can of Diet Pepsi floats in 
water while an unopened cai 
of regular Pepsi sinks." But h 
provides no explanation for 
this "mystery;" even though i 
is quite simple. 

Both regular and Diet 
Pepsi are mostly water, so 
their hquid contents have 
a density close to that of 
plain water. (The densitv' ot 
the aluminum can itself is 
greater, but it is more than 
offset by the ven,' low density 
of carbon dioxide under pres- 
sure inside.) 

The Diet Pepsi floats be 
cause its sweetness is obtaine( 
from a very small quantity of 
Aspertame, which is several 
hundred times sweeter than 
sugar or corn syrup. Because 
the regular Pepsi uses large 
quantities of these denser- 
than-water sweeteners, a can 
of it will sink in water. 
Bruce Sainpsell 
Chapel Hill, NC 

NeU de Grasse Tyson replies: 
You have ably explained why reg- 1 
ular Pepsi is denser than Diet 
Pepsi, but from your description, 
a person may be led to think that I 
the density of regular Pepsi is 
much higher than that of Diet 
Pepsi when, in fact, there is only 
a 3 percent difference. Tlie "mys- 
tery" for me is that the density o/"| 
water happens to fall in the nar- 
row ranoe between them. 


m I 



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8 C n t r i fa u to r s 

Natural History 4/96 

"When I spent some time at a writers' colony recently," Caroline Alexander 

("Trov's Prodigious Ruin") observes, "I found that only one other person had 
read the Iliad. But now that the gold of Troy has resurfaced, the modern world 
has a chance to consider the fate ot the old gods we've discarded." Trained as a 
classicist, Alexander had never actually been to Troy before this assigmnent, 
but dates her interest in the Hiad from age fourteen, when she read the great 

epic in an English translation. 
Since then, her involvement 
with the classics has persisted; 
she has even estabhshed a classics 
department at the Universirv of 
Malawi in East Africa. 

A research associate at Harvard's Peabody 
JVIuseum, Barbara W. Fash ("Maya Resur- 
rection") sers-es as artist and sculpture co- 
ordinator for the Copan AcropoHs Ar- 
chaeological Project (GAAP). She is 
responsible for the concept of Copan's 
new sculpture museum and supervised 
the reconstruction of the facades on dis- 
play. Her husband and coauthor. William 
L. Fash, is the director of GAAP and the 
Bov\"ditch Professor ot Gentral American 

and Mexican ArchaeologN' and Ethnology at Harvard. He is 
also the author of Scribes, ]]iiyriors, and Kings (London and 
New York: Thames and Hudson, 1991). Photographer Enrico 
Ferorelli first met Barbara and WiUiam Fash in 1985, when he 
was on assignment in Honduras. He was excited to encounter: 
them a decade later and see the creation of the new Gopan 
museum. A native of Italy who hves in New York Git^; Fer- 
orelli is a world traveler who holds a commercial pUot's licensq 
and enjoys soaring, saihng, skiing, and diving. His pho- 
tographs have appeared in National Geographic, Smithsonian, 
Newsweek, Time, Life, Sports Uhistrated, and Vanity Fair 

Brooklyn-based writer Mark Jacobson ("Digging the 
Badlands") traveled far from his usual beat this month, 
spending a week digging fossils in the Badlands of South 
Dakota. The music critic for Esquire and a sports writer 
for New York magazine, Jacobson also contributes the 
"World Music" column to Kiitnml History. His first novel, 
Gojiro, was pubhshed by Atlantic Monthly Press in 1992, 

and he has recently completed his sec- 
ond work of fiction. Everyone and No 
One. BrazU-born photographer J. L. BuM 
cao, who accompanied the Jacobson 
family to the Badlands, lives in New 
York Gin,' and is a staff photographer foi, 
the Gamma Liaison agency. 

Gary Lincoff ("Mushroom 
Mama ') majored in philoso- 
phy in college, but his Hfe 
took an unexpected turn in 
1970, when he found some 
inky cap mushrooms in a 
New York Git\' park. Since 

then he has built a career as a self-taught mycologist, teaching mushroon: 
courses, leading tours to mushroom areas all over the world, and writing 
field guides. His latest book, Tlie Mushroom Book, will be pubhshed by 
DorUng Kindersley later this year. A self-described photographic surreal- 
ist and humorist. Chip Slmons is known for his wide-angle shots, colored 
strobes, and Hght-painting techniques. His work appears widely in elec- 
tronic and print media. , 

Gartoonist Stan Mack ("Written in Stone: A Geologist's Manhattan") began his career in journalism as the art director for the the 
New York Times Magazine and Book Review sections. He then s\vitched to cartoonist/reporter, working for various pubhcarions. in- 
cluding the Village Voice, where he covered big-cit\- issues in his "Real Life Funnies." Recently, Mack has expanded his horizons to . 
books: Stan Mack's Real Life American Revolution was pubhshed by Avon in 1994, and he is now working on another work of cartoon | 
histors'. Sidney Horenstein is coordinator of em-ironmental programs for the American Museum of Natural History . An indefatigable 
educator and lecturer, he leads manv Museum-sponsored tours dealing wdth the geology,' and natural histors' of New York Gity. 

Regents' Professor of 
Biology at the Univer- 
sin." of New Mexico. 
James H. Brown ("Biodi- 
versity' on the Border- 
lands") has studied the 

ecology of the southwestern United States for three decades. His current 
research includes investigations into the influence of climate on plants and 
animals m southeastern Arizona. Goauthor Astrld Kodric-Brown, a native of 
Zagreb, Groatia, is also a biolog\' professor at the university-. Her special in- 
terest is fishes of the arid Southwest, especially endangered pupfishes and 
GUa topminnows. 

Nature photographer Paul Hicks ("Bowers of Bhss") doesn't let his full-time job at an electronics company inter- 
iere vvith photographing animals, a passion that started in his teens. Near his home in Winkfield, England, he 
shoots close-ups of insects in the summer and birds in the wdnter, and he is m the midst of writing his second 
book on nature photography. To broaden his range of wUdhfe subjects, Hicks travels whenever time allows. His 
photograph of the flihnars (a \\dnner of the 1995 BBG Wildlife Gompetition) featured in this months "Natural 
Moment" was taken with a Nikon F4s and a 300-mm lens. 

Explore the sights. 

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COUPO.X E.XPIRES 9/30/96 PG# 7S293 


10 Natural Selections 

Natuca. hisloiy 4/96 

III 1808, Charles Willson Peak painted tlie only known portrait of his 
friend William Bartram. It hung in Peak's Philadelphia Museum, along 
with other portraits of the country's foremost naturalists. Right and far 
right: Bartram's watercolor views of the great mud tortoise, or snapping 
turtle, were painted in Pennsylvania before his great travels. 

The Marvelous Adventuresi 

By Joseph Kastner 

Travels Through North and South Car- 
oHna, Georgia, East and West Florida 
(1791), by William Bartram. Tlte Library of 
America, $37.50; 728 pp., illus. 

Review Wilham Bartram's classic has 
had an odd histon,-. The nat- 
uralist's explorations of the American 
Southeast were made between 1773 and 
! T77, but Travels Through North and South 
Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida was 
not published until 1791, and its reception 
was lukewarm, as critics derided his st^de 
and disbelieved his tales. A year later, how- 
ever, a pirated edition was pubHshed in 

London, and the book became a wildly 
successfiil bestseller in Europe; it was pub- 
lished and republished over the next 
decades in France. Germany, Austria. Ire- 
land, and Holland. 

Americans then became a\\'are ot Eu- 
rope's enthusiasms — Carlvle \vrote Emer- 
son recommending Bartram's "wondrous 
kind ot floundering eloquence" — but it 
was almost a centirry and a halt betore any 
new editions of Travels were printed in the 
United States and its unique place in 
American hterature and science recog- 
nized. Now the book and Bartram have 
been given their due by the Library of 
America, \vhose handsome ne^v edition 
puts the modest Quaker naturalist up be- 

side HawTihorne, Mehille, Faulkner, and 
all the rest in its pantheon ot original 
American wxiters. Selected and annotated 
bv Rutgers Lfniversitv' historv' professor 
Thomas P. Slaughter, the edition includes 
an extensive collection of Bartram's draw- 
ings (sixteen pages of fuU-color plates and 
thirty-two pages of black-and-white 
plates) and his other miscellaneous writ- 
ings (including Observations on the Creek 
and Cherokee Indians and Some Aaount of 
the Late Mr. John Bartram of Pennsylvania). 

"The attention of a traveler should be 
particularly turned, in the first place, to 
the various works of nature," WTites Bar- 
tram in the opening pages of Travels. He 
soon gives a place to evervthing plain and 



«)f Puc Puggy 


wonderful he encounters on a journey 
through what he calls "an infinite variety 
of animated scenes, inexpressibly beautiful 
and pleasing." In its own quirky ways — et- 
tulgent and specific, innocent and ironic, 
its piety tempered by earthiness — Travels 
I will give its new readers an unmatched, 
on-the-spot sense of what the New World 
was like. And though Bartram tells of 
.ibandoned plantations that already were 
leaving the country "sallow, defaced and 
''Corched," the account arouses not so 
much nostalgia at what has been lost as as- 
tonishment at the beauty and power of the 
American land. 

Born in 1739, William Bartram had 
trained as a naturalist under his lather, John 

Bartram, a tanner and self-taught scientist 
who became, in the judgment of Linnaeus 
himself, "the greatest natural botanist in 
the world." Given a classical education in 
Philadelphia, William could not setrie into 
a career, faihng as a farmer and going 
bankrupt as a merchant. But his talent tor 
drawing plants and birds led John 
FothergiU, an English doctor and natural- 
ist, who had one of the finest gardens in 
Europe, to commission him to go out 
hunting plants in the American South. 

The explorations took Bartram over 
2,400 miles in four and a half years, mostly 
on horseback, alone, over wilderness 
tracks and ancient Indian trade routes. 
Bartram is exhaustive in listing plants — tor 

example, "a new shrub of great singularirs' 
. . . narrow lanceolate obtuse pointed 
leaves . . . pale incarnate flowers succeeded 
by desiccate triquetrous pericarpi each 
containing a single kernel." But he is not 
content with catalogs. Pines are "exalted," 
palms are "pompous," magnohas grow in 
"venerated groves." 

He balances botany with adventure. In 
Georgia, having passed through a "dark 
labyrinth" of thickets, he tumbles down a 
rocky incUne and saves himself by grab- 
bing a shrub and, on studying it, discovers 
that it is a new variet\' of geuni. Out be- 
yond the colonial frontier, he is accosted 
bv an armed Seminole brave of "angrs- and 
tierce" countenance who rejects Bartrams 

12 Natural'' 

Natural History 4/96 

placating hand "with a look of malice, rage 
and disdain." As the naturaUst resigns him- 
self "entirely to the will of the Almighty," 
the Indian abruptly directs Bartram to the 
next trading post where a chief explains 
that the brave, "oudawed by his country- 
men, had gone off swearing he would kill 
the first white man he met." 

Mostly Bartram is on very good terms 
with the Indians. He respects them, col- 
lects their relics and information about 
their traditions. Their natural ways attract 
him. They are, he wrote in Travels, "in the 
first rank amongst mankind . . . humane 
and honest . . . moral men \vho stand in no 
need of European civilization." The Indi- 
ans in turn hke Bartram. A Seminole chief 
named Cowkeeper, learning what Bartram 
was up to, gives him the name ot Puc 
Puggy, or "flower hunter." 

Invited to sit in on a chief's pep talk to 
the hometown lacrosse team, Bartram later 
attends a party, and is bemused by "ludi- 
crous bacchanalian scenes . . . jovial 
amorous topers . . . convivial songs, dances 
and sacrifices to Venus." He stays aloof 
from an orgy but is tempted when he 
comes upon "companies of young inno- 
cent Cherokee virgins" harvesting wild 
strawberries, "bathing their limbs in the 
cool fleeting streams . . . staining their 
cheeks with the rich fruit." Tempted by his 
own idealized vision, he wonders, "To 
what lengths our passions might have hur- 
ried us had it not been for . . . some envi- 
ous matrons who espying us gave the 
alarm." The episode ends properly with 
Bartram being fed berries "encircled by 
the whole assembly of innocent jocose syl- 
van nymphs." 

Travels is a beguiling mix ot science, so- 
cial comment, storytelling, and a little 
morahzing. A romantic and a deist, Bar- 
tram finds virtue in the natural state, per- 
ceives a "motion and volition" in plants 
and something "divine and immortal" in 
animals. But they are also monstrous and 
menacing. On a Florida river, a "subtle 
greedy" alligator rushes from the reeds. 
"The ^vaters like a cataract descend from 
his opening jaws. Clouds of smoke issue 
firom his dilated nostrils. The earth trem- 
bles with his thunder." A rival challenges 
him, and "they sink to the bottom, folded 
together in horrid wreaths." Then, as Bar- 

tram paddles out to get some fish for din- 
ner, the aUigators turn on him "belching 
floods of water over me. They struck their 
jaws together close to my ears as almost to 
stun me." He chases them ofl!"and, during 
the night, has to get up and chase off a pair 
of marauding bears. 

As diligent travel writers must, Bartram 
rates the native food. "Ribs of three great 
fat bears, well barbecued with hot bread 
and honeyed water," get stars. Bittern, 
roasted by an Indian hunting party, are too 
fishy for his taste, but young waterfowl, 
"almost a lump of fat . . . made us a rich 
supper." When he cooks for himself, he 
stews trout in the juice of wild oranges. 

Before ending his journey in 1777, Bar- 
tram sent off more than 200 plant varieties 
to FothergiU, some of them, like the eared 
magnolia and the oak-leaf hydrangea, new 
to botany, and a few that the doctor 
planted in his own garden. With them 
Bartram sent drawings and a two-part re- 
port, which, after the doctor died, was lost 
for more than a century. Both the draw- 
ings and the report are included in the new 
Library of America edition. 

Bartram was thirty-eight when he re- 
turned to Kingsessing, the commercial 
nursery outside of Philadelphia estabHshed 
by his father, which passed on to him and 
his brother at his father's death in 1777. 
For the next forty-six years, Bartram never 
ventured far afield again, even declining 
Thomas Jefferson's proposal to go as 
botanist on the Lewis and Clark expedi- 
tion. One of Bartram's visitors, William 
Dunlop, came upon him at home in his 
garden digging in the tulip bed. Bartram 
"ceased his work and entered into conver- 
sation with the ease and politeness of na- 
ture's noblemen, his countenance was ex- 
pressive of benignity and happiness." 
Bartram also turned his attention to birds, 
compiling the first good, systematic hst of 
215 American species and keeping de- 
tailed notes on their life histories. 

As the years went on, Bartram became 
the grand old man of American natural 
history, was elected to the American 
Philosophical Society, the premier scien- 
tific institution of the new country, and 
became mentor to a young generation of 
naturalists such as ornithologist Alexander 
Wilson, entomologist Thomas Say, and 

botanist Thomas Nuttall. When Philadel-] 
phia was the nation's capital, he had sucli 
distinguished visitors as Alexander Hamil-i 
ton, James Madison, and Thomas Jeffer-' 
son. His reports have been useful t( 
botanists, ornithologists, and geologists, a 
well as to anthropologists. 

In the meantime. Travels was inflaming 
Europeans with its visions of the New 
World, abetting schemes to set up utopiar 
communities in a pristine land, and pro-i 
foundly influencing writers of the new ro- 
mantic age. Coleridge read and reread 
Travels and transformed its images in hi:l 
poetry. Bartram's passages on an "amazing 
crystal fountain which incessantly threw 
up, from dark rocky caverns tons of watei 
every minute ... a continual and amazing 
ebullition" became in Coleridge's Kiibh 
Khan, "ceaseless turmoil seething" of the 
waters in "caverns measureless to man.'. 
Similarly, Bartram's armies of many-col- 
ored fish, emerging from a cave's abyss anc 
"floating like butterflies in the cerulean 
ether," inhabit the fevered mind of Co- 
leridge's ancient mariner. 

Wordsworth, having lost his copy oi 
Travels while abroad, anxiously sent home 
for another. His poem "Ruth," right oul 
of Bartram, talks of "a happy rout" of In- 
dian girls who "gather strawberries all day 
long," and azaleas that "with one scarlet 
gleam . . . seem to set the hills on fire.'' 
Bartram had written about hillsides of aza- 
leas — "red, orange and bright gold ... in- 
credible profusion" — that alarmed him 
"with the apprehension of the hiU being 
set on fire." More deeply, Bartram's per-' 
ceptions of a divine "motion and volition" 
in nature is at the root of Wordsworth's- 
tenet that "there is a motion and a spirit 
that roUs through all things." 

In this way, Bartram's book joins the 
company of travel books that have a mea- 
sure of greatness in them, informing both 
the mind and the imagination, sometimes, 
with transcendent results. But Travels has a 
more accessible virtue. It also makes very 
good reading. 

Joseph Kastner has written extensively on the 
history of natural history. His books inclnile A 
Species of Eternity, A World of Watchers,; 
and a biography of John James Audubon for 
young readers. 



Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas 
Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West 

By Stephen E. Ambrose (Simon and Schuster, 1996, $30) 

A historian adds some new information on the first official transcontinental land 

expedition and focuses on the complex character of Lewis. 

Storm Over Mono 

By John Hart (Uniivrsity of California Press, 1996, $50) 
The fate of the eastern Sierra's ancient inland lake basin appeared to be doomed 
by Los Angeles's ciemands on its water until efforts by a grass-roots group turned 
things around. 

Exploring Ancient Native America 

By David Hurst Thomas (Adacmillan, 1995, $25) 

American Museum of Natural History anthropologist David Thomas has 

compiled a comprehensive, vivid guide to nearly 400 archeological sites in North 


Xuanzang: A Buddhist Pilgrim on the Silk Road 

By Sally Hovey Wriggins (VVestviewPress/A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, 
1996, $32.50) 

The seventh-century Buddhist monk Xuanzang has remaineci China's premier 
folk hero since his epic 10,000-mile, sixteen-year journey from China to India 
and back again. 

Confessions of an Igloo Dweller 

By James Houston (A Peter Davison Book / Houghton Mifflin Company, 1996, $24.95) 
On his first visit to the Canadian Arctic in 1948, Houston was so taken by the 
Inuit that he spent the better part of the next fourteen years living and working 
anions them. 

The Clock of Ages 

By John J Medina (Cambridge University Press, 1996, $24.95) 

In tracing the diseases that afflicted particular historical figures, Medina, a 

molecular biologist, explores the aging process in various body systems 

Messages from an Owl 

By Max R. Terman (Princeton University Press, 1996, $24.95) 

Rescuing an abandoned great horned owlet, Kansas zoologist Terman finds 

himself in a long-term relationship that continually surprises and instructs him. 

William Bartram on the Southeastern Indians 

Edited and annotated by Gregory A. IVasclkov and Kathryn E. Holland Brannd 
(University of Nebraska Press, 1995, $46.50) 

This volume contains the writings and drawings of the eighteenth-century 
naturalist William Bartram, who was unique among his conteniporaries in his 
knowledge about Southeastern Native Americans, particularly the Creek and 
Seminole tribes. 

Travel Friendly 

By Robert Anderso)i Travel information on 
the Internet is so abun- 
dant that, with enough patience, net 
surfers can explore all the possibilities and 
arrange their own trips — in effect becom- 
ing their own travel agents. One of the 
best sites to start with is Internet Solutions 
which allows you to enter a few keywords, 
presumably the name of the place you 
want to go, and then returns a hst of all the 
pertinent sources. 

Without a clear destination in mind, 
you might try the travel logs(http:// 

Travel_Logs Travelogues_/) , which list a 

large number of idiosyncratic personal ac- 
counts of nontraditional itineraries and 
often give detailed travel information that 
wiU undoubtedly improve the trip tor any- 
one following in their footsteps. These in- 
formal travel pieces may also suggest trips 
that you might never have thought of, for 
instance, one entitled "Mountain Biking 
on the Ho Chi Minh Trail" (http:// 
vvwAV. trips/ vietnaml.html). 
For the armchair reader, simply reading 
one biker's vivid, if bone-jarring, account 
of some of his lOO-inile days is adventure 

Groups promoting nature travel or eco- 
tourism are on the Internet vying for cus- 
tomers, but many ecoconscious travelers 
are concerned about the negative impact 
of tourism on some of the more firagUe 
areas. The Rainforest Action Network 
ecotourism.html) addresses this concern 
and offers guidelines. Earth Wise Journeys 
also promotes sociaDy responsible travel, 
listing only trips tailored to preserve local 
ecologies and cultures. These range fi-om 
research and volunteer expeditions to spir- 
itual retreats and travel study. You can sign 
up to receive a free copy of the current 


Robert Anderson is an editor at Natural His- 
tory n}aga:ine. 


1 4 ': INI a t u r a I S e I e ct i on s 

Natural History 4/96' 




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From the main screen 
of The Cartoon 
Guide to Physics, 
users can navigate 
widely in the field: 
learning about famous 
physicists, observing 
physical principles in 
action, and 
participating in 
scientific experiments 
and observing the 

The Cartoon Guide to Physics 

By Howard Topojf 

CD-ROM My training was in bio- 
psychology, but I almost 
became a physicist. Sometimes I think I 
should have. Scientists in both fields are 
confronted by phenomena that can't be 
seen. In psychology, we investigate 
"hunger," yet we never see hunger. In- 
stead, we measure stomach contractions, 
levels of blood sugar, and the amount of 
food consumed. A comparable construct 
in physics is "gravity," operationally de- 
fined by measuring how objects of varying 
mass move toward each other. Yet, there's 
a simplicity in physics that I envy. 

Consider the issue of two five-pound 
steel balls. One is shot horizontally from a 
cannon, while the other ball is merely 
dropped from the same height. Which wiU 
hit the ground first? The answer, of 
course, is they will bottom out at the same 
moment. Gravity acts only on the vertical 
motion, and imparts an identical accelera- 
tion (32 feet/sec-) to both balls. All I have 
to know about the cannon balls is their 
initial height. 

That's what I like about The Cartoon 
Guide to Physics. This CD-ROM, based on 
the book by Larry Gornick and Art Hoff- 
man, offers hands-on (hands on the 
mouse, that is) workshops dealing with 
collisions, inertia, acceleration, and pro- 
jectiles and enables the viewer to use the 
laws of mechanics to successfully predict 
the motion of simple objects. Don't be 
fooled by the word "cartoon." Although a 

cartoon figure (Pingo) is the host of the' 
program, there is serious science here. 

In the module on "roUer coasters," for, 
example, your goal is to make the passen-j 
ger cars stop at the exact top of the last hill.i 
You accomplish this by varying both thei 
potential energy of the cars (their starting 
height), and their kinetic energy (the mass; 
of the cars). The physicists among you wiU' 
undoubtedly want to use the equationss 
provided in the program to precisely cal- 
culate the correct settings. The rest of us^ 
will prevail by the far more enjoyable; 
method of trial and error. My favorite' 
module in the workshop is "collisions," 
where the concept of elasticity is simulated; 
via a game of billiards. It's like Minnesota 
Fats meets Isaac Newton. 

After a few hours in the laboratory, take' 
a lunch break and then register for two; 
lecture courses. The first is "Lucy'si 
World," a series of animated lectures on; 
the physics of moving objects. Next comes 
"Hall of Fame," where we learn about the;! 
lives and accomplishments of the world's' 
most famous physicists, including New- 
ton, Archimedes, and Einstein. The onlyi 
thing missing from The Cartoon Guide to] 
Physics is a final exam. (HarperCollins In-; 
teractive Publishers, 10 East 53d St., New!. 
York, NY 10022; (interactive@harper-'; 1-800-424-6234. 

Howard Topojf is a professor of psychology at 
Hunter College and a research associate in the' 
American Museum of Natural History's De- 
partment of Entomology. 



21 2.336.6666 


16 N a tu ra I i s t at La rge 

Natural History 4/96 

Arrival of the Easter Bilbyl 

At Eastertime, some environmentally conscious Australian 
parents are replacing the traditional chocolate bunny with the 
chocolate bilby, above. Australia had two native bilby species, but 
one, the lesser bilby, facing page, is extinct. 

By Timothy Planner)' 

Some Western traditions are peculiarly re- 
sistant to change. Each December, Aus- 
tralian families — many descended from 
British immigrants — gather to celebrate 
Chrismias in the mind-numbing heat of 
the antipodean summer. The majority sit 
formally around a table, in the middle of 
which hes the carcass of that formidable 
North American gaUinaceous bird, the 
turkey, which radiates waves of heat that 
push the temperature even higher. After- 
ward, they enjoy large volumes of hot. 
stodg)' pudding. Ice cold beer, often drunk 
in vast quantities, is the only concession to 
the change of hemispheres. 

Unril recendy, the celebration of Easter 
in Australia was almost as unaffected by 
local conditions. But the appearance in 
confectionery stores around the nation of 
small chocolates in the form of bilbies 
(cute marsupials that bear a superficial re- 
semblance to rabbits) is a sign that the old 
traditions are finally beginning to yield to 
the new land. 

Chocolate rabbits (and eggs), of course. 

were the traditional 
Easter confections. And 
highly suitable ones they 
were too. They are pre- 
eminent symbols ot fer- 
tilit\-. and both the timing 
and the name ot Easter 
show that this ancient 
festival has as much to do 
\\^ith fertihty cults as with 
the death and resurrec- 
tion ot Christ. 

According to the Ven- 
erable Bede, a medieval 
scholar, the Easter festival 
derives its name trom 
Eastre. an ancient deit\- 
connected with the fer- 
tility- of springtime and 
the aruiual return ot the 
sun. Thanks to Pope 
Gregory; Eastre's festival 
survived the coming of 
Christianity to England 
without being renamed. In A.D. 601 Gre- 
gory wrote to the missionaries who had 
embarked for pagan England: 

/ have been giving careful thought to the 
affairs of the English, and have come to the 
conclusion that the temples of the idols 
among the people should on no aaount be 
destroyed. . . . And since they have a 
custom of sacrificing many oxen to demons, 
let some other solemnity be substituted in its 
place. . . . Tliey are no longer to sacrifice 
beasts to the devil, but they may kill them 
for food to the praise of God. . . . For it is 
certainly impossible to eradicate all errors 
from obstinate minds in one stroke. 

In short. Pope Gregon,- advocated leaving 
the form of the Enghsh pagan ceremonies 
in place and rededicating them to Christ. 

Spring is the time when Eastre's fertiht\- 
was most acutely perceived by the pagan 
Europeans. And that is when, quite sensi- 
bly, they celebrated it. That the Crucifix- 
ion occurred at about the same time was 
highly convenient. In Australia, however, 
the festival falls in autumn. The links with 

fertility are thus somewhat strained. But 
even worse, the rabbit, that consummate 
s^inbol ot tertilif\' to early Europeans, is 
w ideh' seen as a symbol ot destruction by 
modern-day Austrahans. 

Rabbits are not native to AustraUa. In- 
troduced in small numbers in the middle 
of the nineteenth century, they soon be- 
came a pest of almost unimaginable pro- 
portions, rolling in vast waves toward the 
croplands of the continent's margins. They 
breached fences put up to halt their ad- 
vance, often passing through openings cre- 
ated by livestock, sometimes hopping up 
onto mounds ot windblown sand — or 
even the dead bodies of other rabbits — and 
over the top. The introduction of the \iral 
disease m^^x:omatosis — in a desperate at- 
tempt to eradicate this pest — thinned rab- 
bit numbers temporarily, but they remain a 
serious problem. 

Rabbits, together with another intro- 
duced, predatory species, the red fox, have 
been implicated in the demise ot many of 
the twent\--three Australian mammal spe- 
cies that have become extinct o\'er the past 
centun.-. (The fox thrives in part because of 
the abundance ot rabbit prey.) This loss 
represents 10 percent ot the Austrahan. 
mammal fauna, not counting bats. f 

Attempts to control rabbit numbers are 
ongoing. In 1995 Austrahan scientists 
began experimenting with rabbit cali- 
civirus — a pathogen highly lethal to rab- 
bits — on a small island oS the coast of 
South AustraUa. Late in the year, the virus 
escaped to the mainland and within a fe^w 
weeks had spread hundreds of miles. It 
now- seems to be spread by tiies that \isit 
infected carcasses. As I write, there are al- 
most daily reports in the Australian media 
about the spread of the new pestilence, 
along with concerns (probably unjustified) 
that the virus may become a danger to hu- 
mans or other species. Rabbits are again 
having a large, negative impact on the col- 
lective Australian psyche. 

Little wonder then that a growing num- 
ber of emiromnentally conscious parents 
have qualms about buying chocolate rab- 
bits and desire a more appropriate conlec- 

CAT.ilAKS.B . 



4 I ^ '/ 




Mintcrr\ Bios. IciE 

tion to give to their children at Eastertime. 

At first glance, the idea of the Easter 
bilby seems a stroke of genius. Bilbies are 
adorable marsupials of the bandicoot su- 
perfamily. There are — or were — two spe- 
cies, both burrowers with remarkably rab- 
bithke ears. But there the similarity to 
rabbits ends. The lesser bilby (Macwtis leii- 
aira) was a dainty creature, just over a 
pound in weight, with a long, bannerlike 
tail. Until the arrival of rabbits, pastorahsts, 
and foxes, the lesser bilby was widespread 
in Austraha's sand dune deserts. Despite its 
delicate appearance, the lesser bilby was a 
carnivore capable of delivering a nasty bite. 
Aborigines report that a few survived into 
the 1960s, but the last known specimen 
was collected in 1931. The species is now 
considered extinct. 

The greater bilby {Macrotis lagotis) has 
fared better, so far. A larger animal — up to 

In Australia, the rabbit 
is less a symbol of 
welcome fertility than 
of destruction. 

five pounds in weight — it feeds on insects, 
fruit, and seeds. Its soft, bluish fur and ban- 
nerlike black and white tail make it one of 
the most attractive of all marsupials. A 
century ago it was probably the most 
widespread of all Australian marsupials. Its 
burrows, up to six feet deep and ten feet 
long, can still be seen in areas where the 
animal itself is long vanished. Today, the 
bilby is found only in a few isolated, inland 
regions, where its numbers continue to go 

Given the role rabbits may have played 
in the dramatic decline of both bilby spe- 
cies, there is a certain poetic justice in the 
choice of the bilby as a replacement for the 
Easter bunny. As further recompense, a 
small percentage of the profits made from 
selling Easter bilbies goes toward bilby 

Nevertheless, I feel a litde uncomfort- 
able linking the bilby with our admittedly 
already confused Easter cultural baggage. 
Fertility symbols are still at the heart of the 
festival, and the bilby, both endangered 
and slow to reproduce, seems a less than 
perfect substitute for the rabbit. But then 

again, I can't imagine Australian parents 
queuing up to buy chocolate replicas of 
what is probably Australia's most fecund 
endemic mammal: the unfortunately 
named plague (or long-haired) rat (Rditiis 
vilhsissiiims), in appearance very much Uke 
the loathed black rat. 

Australia is, in an ecological sense, one 
of the strangest corners of the globe. Its 
unique ecology slowly forces change on 
even the most conservative of cultures. 
Personally, I can hardly wait for the day 
when my family will be ready to sit down 
to a Christmas feast of lobsters, yabbies 
(freshwater crayfish), and a cold collation 
of kangaroo, laid out under the shade ot a 
beautiful sheoak tree by an incomparable 
ocean beach. As for the bilbies, I've been 
enjoying them (at least the chocolate ones) 
for some time already. 

Maiiiiiiah^ist Tiiiiotliy Fhiiiiicry li priudpal 
research scientist at the Australian Museum in 
Sydney. A chapter cfliis recent bock The Fu- 
ture Eaters (Cecr<;e Braziller, Inc., 1995) was 
puhlislied in the Deceinlwr 1995 issne (/Nat- 
ural History. 

oMif e. 

Natural History 4/96 

Can We Truly Know 

oth and 



We can go eyeball 
to eyeball with 
other creatures — 
but their inner 
^vorlds remain 

By Stephen Jay Gould 

The classic generalized statement of a 
common problem in intellectual and prac- 
tical life may be found in Tennyson's 
lament that his dearest (and deceased) 
friend Arthur Hallam seemed so close in 
loving memory yet so unreachable in actu- 
ality: "He seems so near, and yet so far." 

The classic particularized statement of 
the same problem comes from Coleridge's 
Ancient Mariner, adrift in an utterly unus- 
able but completely enveloping bounty: 
"Water, water, every where,/Nor any drop 
to drink." 

The common experience of being so 
close that you. can almost touch, yet so ut- 
terly distant by any available way of know- 
mg, provides a decidedly mixed blessing — 
as both a primary frustration of daily life 
and a major prod to scientific advance. My 
favorite example has a largely happy end- 
ing still vigorously in progress: consider 
how much ot medicine's sorry history of 

so little advance over so many centuries 
(until very recently) arose from a diagnos- 
tic problem involving only an inch or two. 
The trouble requiring visualization lies just 
below the opaque covering of our skin. 
Untold iTullions (probably billions) of pre- 
mature, and often painful, deaths have oc- 
curred because no one could see a devel- 
oping tumor or an internal source of 
infection. The old surgeons could do Uttle 
more than cut it off or (on occasion) take 
it out — where "it" represented something 
quite large (a hmb, for example), often re- 
moved in toto because a small and local le- 
sion could not be pinpointed. Imagine, 
then, the triumphant benevolence of a 
host of inventions from X-rays to CT scans 
to MRIs. The ability to see an inch or two 
inside has revolutionized our lives and 
greatly improved our prospects. 

Natural historians have dedicated them- 
selves to the noble and fascinating task of 
trying to understand, in the deepest way 
accessible to us, the amazing variety ot life 
on our planet. The best possible procedure 
immediately runs into Tennyson's limit of 
proximity with impossibiUty. I go eyeball 
to eyeball with some other creature — and 1 
yearn to know the essential quality of its 
markedly different vitality. I cry to the 
gatekeeping god of scientific knowability: 
Give me one minute — -just one minute — 
inside the skin of this creature. Hook me 
up tor just sixty seconds to the perceptual 
and conceptual apparatus of this other 
being — and then I will know what natural 
historians have sought throua:h the ages. 

But this god stays as silent as all the 
prophets of Baal when taunted by Elijah — 
for he, like them, has no power to grant 
my request. 1 can only look from the out- 
side (or cut into the inside, but flesh and 
genes do not reveal organic totality). I am 
stuck with a panoply of ineluctably indi- 
rect methods — some very sophisticated to 
be sure. I can anatomize, experiment, and 
infer. I can record reams of data on behav- 
iors and responses. But if I could be a bee- 
tle or a bacillus for that one precious 
iTunute — and live to tell the tale in perfect 
meinory — then I might truly fulfill Dar- 
win's dictum penned into an early note- 
book containing the first flowering of his 
evolutionary ideas during the late 1830s: 
"He who understands baboon would do 
more towards metaphysics than Locke." 

Instead, we can only peer in from the 
outside, look our subject straight in the 
face, and wonder, ever wonder. StOl, con- 
sidering how far our methods must lie 
from the unreachable optimality of 
dwelling within, we have managed pretty 
well in a world without metempsychosis. 
Our indirect methods have taught us a 
mountain of things about horses, but if 
you wished to learn even more, wouldn't 
you rather be Whirlaway in the stretch 
than interview Eddie Arcaro afterward? 

I came face to face (many times) with 
this old paradox during a recent trip to 
Costa Rica, a nation justly celebrated 
among poor and tropical lands for its max- 
imal attention to the health and preserva- 
tion of remaining natural environments — 

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Natural History 4/96 

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a position not only ethically correct but 
also potentially profitable both to the na- 
tion itself and to all of us. (The editor of 
Natural History requested a piece with a 
travel motif for this theme issue. Travel 
writing forms an ancient and honorable 
genre in natural histoi-y but hes maximally 
distant from my own sD,'le and prochvities. 
However, a trip to the rain forests did jolt 
this classical theme out of my subconscious 
for specific reasons that I shall now de- 
scribe — so I am happy to join this collec- 
tive enterprise in my o\vn way. Stubborn 
and honorable characters from Job to Sura- 
tra have always tried to balance coopera- 
tion wnth maintained distinctiveness: 
"'Though he slay me, yet will I trust in 
him; but I 'will maintain mine own ways 
before him" (Job 13:15). 

Two Costa Rican animals cast a particu- 
larly enigmatic stare at me and eUcited the 
old, fi-ustrating thought that if only 1 could 
get inside their different world for a 
minute, I might understand. Small mam- 
mals and insects strike us as frenetic; some 
reptiles and amphibians seem overcome 
with torpor. But we are not overwhelmed 
by the difference if only because all these 
creatures vary their routines and paces: a 
squirrel can sit rigidly still, while an "im- 
mobile" frog catches insects on a hghtning 

Sloths, however, move with such per\'a- 
sive slowness that their entire world seems 
intrinsically and permanently different 
from ours. I would almost conjecture that 
a fixed, slow-motion camera occupies 
their cranial space, and that they gauge all 
their movements by this markedly ditier- 
ent clock upon the world. Do we. and 
most other creatures, appear to them like 
the Kevstone Cops in movement or the 
Munclikins in raised pitch? Or do our fre- 
netic paces (compared with their stately 
step) constitute the only external world 
they know, recorded in their brains as the 
slothful equivalent of "objective reality"? 
If one of El Greco's uniformly tall and thin 
people stepped out of a canvas featuring 
no other person but himself", and then en- 
tered our world, would we all appear 
ridiculously squat and fat, or would he 
know nothing else (by \drtue of a few cen- 
turies" experience with human gawkers in 
art galleries, but never even a glance at con- 

freres on other canvases), and therefore 
view us as ordinary and archetypal? But 
sloths do know other sloths and must also 
perceive a differently paced external 
world. Perhaps they don't notice the dif- 
ference: perhaps they are merely amused; 
perhaps they don't care. I would love to 

In any case, philosophical speculation 
aside, I have never been so powerfuUy 
moved by a sense of pervasive difference 
for something so basic as a pace of life. 
Hanging upside down, and grasping a tree 
branch by all fours, sloths move along, 
hand over hand, and ever so slowly — not 
(apparently) for reasons of immediate cau- 
tion, but m accord with their own concept 
of normaliU'. They stretch out an arm to 
reach their leaf,' food with the same lan- 
guor. The algae that grow on their hang- 
ing hairs, imparting a green ringe to the 
entire body, almost seem to take hold be- 
cause the animal can't move away fast 
enough. (Yes, of course, the last sentence is 
only metaphor — but then I once heard 
that a roUing stone gathers no moss!) 

At least my impressions are not idiosyn- 
cratic. Sloths seem to impact all Western 
observers in the same basic way. EngUsh- 
men named them with a word meaning 
'"slow" by etymology, thus identifying 
sloths with one of the seven deadly sins as 
well. Every other language that I know 
uses the same designation. They are pa- 
resseux in French and perezoso in Spanish — 
both meaning "laziness" or "indolence." 
They are ianainis in Linnaeus's Latin, 
meaning the same thing (and he formally 
named a sloth genus Bradypiis, meaning 
""slow-tbot" in Greek). As I stood watch- 
ing a sloth high in a tree at Manuel An- 
tonio National Park, I heard a group of 
German tourists speaking about a "'foul" 
animal. I thought that they just didn't care 
for the poor creature, but then I remem- 
bered that fijul is German for "lazy," and 
that a sloth aiifDeiitsdi is Faultier. 

So how slow is slow? (As I wrote in in- 
troducing the topic of this essay, we can at 
least experiment and accumulate outward 
data in lieu of our real desire to get inside 
another animal's head.) Early sources 
heaped the calumny of exaggeration upon 
a realirv' already genuine enough. Ne- 
hemiah Grew, the first scientist (according 












to the Oxford English Dictioiuvy) to call 
sloths by their common English name, 
wrote in 1681, in his catalog of specimens 
owned by the Royal Society of London: 
"The sloath . . . An animal of so slow a 
motion, that he wiU be three or four days, 
at least, in climbing up and coming down 
a tree." Linnaeus, when formally naming 
this creature in his mid-eighteenth-cen- 
tury Systema luitiirac, wrote: "tardissiiiie et 
aegre inccdit, vix inio die 50 passus" (he 
moves most slowly and reluctantly, scarcely 
managing 50 paces in a day). 

Their step is, in fact, a bit brisker, al- 
though nothing to challenge Aesop's tor- 
toise. In the standard book on the subject. 
Function and Form in the Sloth (Pergamon 
Press, 1971), M. Goffart begins his chapter 
on "motor activity" by writing: "Sloths 
sleep or rest about 20 hours a day, per- 
forming perhaps no more than 10 percent 
of the work of a higher mammal of the 
same size." Goffart then summarizes a 
number of careful studies devoted to mea- 
suring the speed of sloths. Their move- 
ment along a horizontal pole (a good ex- 
perimental surrogate for their favored tree 
branches in nature) averages a stately 0.1 to 
0.3 miles per hour, with maximal acceler- 
ation to a sprightly 1 .0 miles per hour. 

Since sloths are so evidently well 
adapted to motion upside down along tree 
branches, we should not be surprised that 
their infrequent right-side-up progression 
on the ground should be so painfully inef- 
ficient. With front legs longer than hind 
limbs, and with permanently curved digits 
that hook well to branches but permit only 
hobbling motion on the ground, sloths 
cannot manage more than 0.1 to 0.2 miles 
per hour on terra firma — scarcely enough 
to outrun a pursuing jaguar. 

Several aspects of sloth anatomy and 
physiology correlate with their extreme 
slowness. Studies of contraction time show 
that, in Gotfart's words, "the muscles of 
the fastest genus of sloths were thus four to 
six times slower than their homologues in 
the cat." Sloths also maintain lower and 
more variable body temperatures than al- 
most any other mammal — a tact of un- 
doubted relevance to their slow pace of 
life. Most mammals hold their steady body 
temperature just a bit below 100° F (as in 
our "standard" of 98.6°). Monotremes and 

marsupials, the egg-laying and pouched 
mammals of Australia and a few other 
places, operate at a considerably lower 
level; the duck-billed platypus, for ex- 
ample, maintains its minimally warm- 
blooded body at about 85° F. 

Sloths belong to the exclusively New 
World mammalian order Edentata, includ- 
ing armadillos and three genera ot South 
and Central American anteaters. Edentates 
maintain the lowest body temperatures 
among placental mammals. For example, 
two species of the sloth genus Bradypns 
varied betrween 82° and 90° F throughout 
the day, depending upon the outside tem- 

Yet, for all these attempts to approach 
the sloth's inner reality with our best infer- 
ences from outward data, we have failed 
badly (and for the usual reason of inability 
to overcome our selt-centered view), at 
least in popular presentations. From the 
name that serves as their definition and in- 
cubus, to our constant emphasis on their 
slowness, stupidity, and duU daily routines, 
we have conveyed an image of sloths as 
very low mammals, doing very little of in- 
terest, very high in the trees. This tradition 
began with a remarkable characterization 
by the great French naturalist Georges 
Buffon in his classic eighteenth-century 
compendium, the many-volumed Histoire 
itatiirelle. Buffon held sloths in maximal 
contempt among mammals, and expressed 
his derision (in his usual elegant prose) by 
explicit comparison with human abilities, 
rather than by any attempt to grasp the 
sloth's own world of opportunities and 
dangers. Bufton wrote; 

Whereas nature appears to us hve, vibrant, 
and enthusiastic in prodncing^ uuinkcys; so is 
she sh^u', constrained and restricted in sloths. 
And we must speak more of wretchedness 
than laziness — more of default, deprivation, 
and defect in their constitution: no incisor or 
canine teeth, small and covered eyes, a thick 
and heavy jau', flattened hair that looks like 
dried grass . . . legs too short, badly tinned, 
and badly terminated . . . no separately 
movable digits, but two or three excessively 
long nails . . . Slowness, stupidity, ucglcct 
of its own body, and ei'cn habitual sadness, 
result from this bi:arre and neglected 
conformation. No weapons for attack or 

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Natural History 4/96 

defense; no means of security; no resource of 
safety in escape; corifined, not to a country, 
but to a tiny mote of earth — tlie tree under 
which it was born; a prisoner in the middle 
of great space . . . everything about them 
announces their misery; tliey are impefect 
productions made by nature, which, scarcely 
having the ability to exist at all, can only 
persist for a while, and shall then be effaced 
from the list of beings . . . These sloths are 
the lowest term of existence in the order of 
animals with flesh and blood; one more 
defect would have made their existence 

As if BufFon had not already heaped 
enough disdain upon sloths, he then points 
out that human miseiy arises from moral 
failures of conscious decisions and not 
from inborn propensity. But only among 
sloths has nature decreed inherent degra- 

The disgraced sloths are perhaps the only 
creatures that nature has maltreated, the 
only creatures that offer us an image of 
innate misery. 

Only at the very end does BufFon pull 
back a bit, wonder about the sloth's own 
internal state (as this essay advises), and 
conjecture that things may not be so bad 
after all — for such an insensible creature 
might not grasp its own plight: 

If the misery resulting from lack of feeling is 
not the greatest of all ills, then that of these 
animals, although very apparent, may not 
be real, because they appear to feel so little: 
their mournful appearance, their heavy look, 
their indolent insensitivity to any received 
blow, all announce their insensibility. 

If this essay were dedicated to support- 
ing sloths against such human calumny or 
derision, much could now be said. A con- 
ventional defense would emphasize those 
neglected features that might inspire 
human respect. For example, general 
slowness notwithstanding, sloths can give a 
quick and nasty slash with those long and 
inflexible nails that Buffon denigrated 
(males do fight for the usual mammalian 
reasons of sexual competition, and sloths 
will defend themselves since they truly 

can't escape by running away). Moreover, 
their torpor (and algal cover) do serve an 
adaptive function in forging inconspicu- 
ousness in the presence of enemies and 
should not be interpreted as a burden of 
phyletic primitivity. 

1 could also point out, stiU framing a 
conventional defense by trying to arouse 
human affection, that sloths have evolved 
an array of interesting and unique features. 
For example, sloths are not a dying rem- 
nant, but a group in reasonable vigor with 
more than half a dozen species in two gen- 
era — Bradypus, the three-toed sloth, and 
Choloepus, . the two-toed sloth. With just 
one or two other exceptions, all mammals 
have exactly seven cervical (neck) verte- 
brae — yes, even giraffes (where the usual 
seven are mighty long). But sloths, for 
some unknown reason, vary this nearly 
universal number. Choloepus has only six 
cervicals; while Bradypus has nine. As a re- 
sult of these extra vertebrae, Bradypus can 
rotate its head through 270 degrees, or a 
full three-quarters of a turn — not quite the 
full spinning of cartoon cliches (remember 
Pinocchio turning his body entirely 
around a stable head in order to display his 
school clothes to Gepetto) but the closest 
equivalent in the real world. 

Too many sloth lovers, myself included, 
have tried to stick up for these mahgned 
edentates by making them either nice or 
interesting in human terms. Goffart, for 
example, continues to combat Buffon's 
calumny two centuries later when he 

Tliough explorers often described sloths as 
expressionless, dreamy and stupid, those 
acquainted with them as pets find that they 
have a great variety of expressions. Tirler 
says that when its face is in repose a good- 
natured smile is forever on its lips. When 
relieving itself Choloepus has an 
expression of quiet pleasure. 

But the more I ponder the subject, the 
more I conclude that we should just try to 
know sloths as they perceive and record 
the world — and not scan their repertoires 
tor items that resonate with us or bring us 
pleasure. And yet, to really know, I need 
those sixty seconds within a Bradypus 
brain — and no power on earth can supply 

this gift and tool. So I ponder the riddles 
of ordinary human walking seen as Key- 
stone Cop freneticism or of reaching for a 
leaf at tai chi speed as a sloth's perception 
of average pacing. So near into that skuU of | 
a distant mammalian relative, so far to |j 
know directly. 

My second fascination in Costa Ricai 
centered upon the carrion-feeding raptors, j 
particularly the turkey vulture. I united 
these birds with the maximally disparate 
sloths in my mind because both made me 
wonder so powerfully about "different 
worlds" in the heads of animals with life 
styles so starkly in contrast with our own 
choices and proclivities — the only world 
we can know directly. But 1 then discov- 
ered another connection quite unknown 
to me at the time. Both these creatures 
elicited maximal contempt from the great- 
est arbiter of historical taste — Georges 
Buffon. 1 already quoted BufFon's depreca- 
tions of sloths. Now consider his opinion 
of vultures: 

The eagle attacks his enemies or his victims 
one on one. . . . Vultures, on the other 
hand, join together in troops, like cowardly 
assassins, and would rather be robbers than 
ivarriors, birds of carnage rather than birds of 
prey, hi this genus fvultures], there are 
those who gang up upon their prey, several 
upon one; and there are others intent only 
upon cadavers, which they rip apart down to 
the bones. Corruption and infection attract 
them, instead of repelling them. . . . If we 
compare these birds to mammals, the vulture 
joins the force and cruelty of tigers with 
the cowardice and gluttony of jackals, which 
also unite in troops in order to devour 
carrion and tear apart cadavers. The eagle, 
on the other hand, has the courage, the 
nobility, the magnanimity and the 
munificence of the lion. 

BufFon also tells us that we can easily 
distinguish vultures from eagles by the 
naked head and neck of the nasty carrion 
feeders versus the full feathering of the 
noble hunters. If this aristocratic French 
naturalist, made famous through his motto 
"le style est I'liomme meme" (the style is the 
man himself), knew the supposed adaptive 
value of the vulture's naked head, he 
would undoubtedly have demoted these 




















ly the 
of lie 

birds even further in his estimation. Vul- 
tures plunge their entire head deep into 
rotting corpses, and a conventional mat of 
feathers would soon become dangerously 
fouled, while gore does not adhere to the 
smooth and naked skin. To cite a standard 
source (Leshe Brown and Dean Amadou's 
Eagles, Hawks and Fakois of the IVorld, Mc- 
Graw-Hill, 1968): "Without this denuda- 
tion, the head feathers would become 
smeared and matted with gore and infec- 
tion might occur." (I have litde sympathy 
for adaptationist scenarios in the "just-so 
story" mode, but this particular tale makes 
good sense to me, especially since the Old 
and New World vultures are not closely 
related by genealogy and have indepen- 
dently evolved this highly localized loss of 
feathers — apparently for the same func- 
tional reason.) 

Litrie about these birds could possibly 
be judged as pleasant in human terms. Of 
the turkey vulture, my Costa Rican source 
of observation, Buffon concluded: "They 
are voracious, cowardly, disgusting, odious 
and, as with wolves, just as noxious during 
their lives as they are useless after their 
death." Consider the grandest of New 
World vultures, the great (and nearly ex- 
tinct) California condor, with maximal 
wingspan among all the world's flying 
birds. I don't wish to compromise in any 
manner the noble efforts now under way 
to save this magnificent species (for adher- 
ence to human ethical standards could 
scarcely be more irrelevant in our judg- 
ment of other animals), but descriptions of 
feeding condors can scarcely inspire any 
visceral affection. 

In the standard source on condor be- 
havior, written in the early 1950s before 
the population had dechned so precipi- 
tously, Carl B. Koford ("The Cahfornia 
Condor," Research Report No. 4 of the Na- 
tional Audubon Society, New York, 1953) 
described how a group of condors ripped 
and struggled so vigorously at a carcass that 
the whole complex (of feeding birds and 
dead food source) slid slowly downhill: 

Carcasses up to the size of a deer arc 
generally dragged downhill as the condors 
feed. Once I saw 20 condors feed on a 
young calf. . . . Soon after vigorous feeding 
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TrS ''el/Cop an natural History 4/9f 






After a millennium of decay, the buildings of 
Copan come bacl< to life in Honduras's new 
museum of Maya sculpture 

By Barbara W. Fash and William L. Fash 
Photographs by Enrico Ferorelli 

The older residents of the modern town of Copan Ru- 
inas remember the earthquake that shook western 
Honduras in April 1934. The church in the town 
square was nearly destroyed, and dozens of houses were 
leveled. The nearby Maya rums themselves suffered 
damage: four of the buildings on the acropohs, already 
undercut by river erosion, collapsed into heaps of rub- 
ble, and what few sculptures remained on the other 
nine major buildings toppled. When Carnegie Institu- 
tion archeologist Gustav Stromsvik arrived shortly 
thereafter, he found people living in temporary lean- 
tos on the patios of their houses as they weathered the 
aftershocks of the following week. Cleanup work left 
ancient sculptures stacked in piles around the site. 

The earthquake only added to the disarray created 
over the past centuries, during which local people and 
foreign visitors scavenged through the rubble of the 
Maya ruins and took attractive pieces for their own. 
This process began in the years following the collapse 
of the ruhng Classic period dy- 
nasty in Copan, in about A.D. 
820. Postclassic people removed 
sculpture from the temple that 
housed the tomb of the last 
ruler, Yax Pasah (New Dawn), 
and carried it off to their own 
homes. They buried their chil- 
dren and other loved ones in 
the east court of the acropolis, 
using the carved blocks from what had been a funerary 
temple to line the bottoms of the graves. They carried 
broken fragments of stone incense burners high into 
the mountains and left them in caves and crevices of the 
sacred mountains where they revered their ancestors. 

Collectors of a different kind later scattered Copan 
sculpture all over the world: to museums in Brussels, 
Cambridge, Chicago, Cleveland, Esquipulas (Guate- 
mala), Genoa, London, New Orleans, New York, 
Philadelphia. San Diego, Seville. Tegucigalpa (Hon- 
duras), the Vatican, and Washington. D.C. Meanwhile 
sun, wind, rain, and temperature change assaulted 
those sculptures that remained. As the great Mayanist 
Tatiana Proskouriakoii' observed, "As if jealous of this^ 
superb creation of man, all the most violent forces of 
nature seem to have conspired to destroy it. 

This history presents a challenge for those seeking 
to study the ancient sculptures. As a result of major re- 
search and conservation efforts by archeologists from 
the United States and Central America (working under 

A reconstruction of 
an early Classic 
Maya temple, left, 
takes shape at the 
center of Copan's 
new museum. 
Above: A local 
mason, Francisco 
Canan, and his son, 
Adelso, assemble 
stone blocks from 
the Copan council 
house. The carved 
inscription is a 
place name in the 
ancient city. 

TraVel/COpan Natural History 4/£ 

the auspices of the Honduran Institute of Anthropol- 
ogy and History), in the past decade more than 25,000 
stone sculpture blocks from Copan's fallen temples and 
palaces have been studied and cataloged, and indoor 
storage areas have been created to protect them from 
the elements. Now we and our Central American col- 
leagues (including Honduran archeologist Ricardo 
Agurcia, the executive director of the Copan Associa- 
tion, and Guatemalan architectural restorer Rudy Lar- 
ios, the codirector of the Copan AcropoHs Archaeolog- 
ical Project) have embarked on anot:her ambitious 
mission: to create a new sculpture museum in Copan. 
Built by the Honduran government, the museum 
will insure the safekeeping of the monuments and un- 
veil restored facades that once covered the larger build- 
ings throughout the ancient city. Although less familiar 

architecture has 
persisted for 
millennia in the 
Copan Valley. Juana 
Lopez and her three 
daughters stand 
before the compound 
of their extended 
family, in the hamlet 
of San Rafael. 

The modern town of 
Copan Ruinas, right, 
dominates a view of 
the Copan Valley, 
looking south. 

to the public than Copan's free-standing stelae and al- 
tars, these facades contained the most plentiful, and 
often the best, stone sculptures in the city. The carvings 
fit together hke mosaics to depict human figures, gods, 
animals, flowers, crops, and other motifs. 

Set within the Copan National Park, the museum 
will consist of one main building and several smaller 
ones connected by outdoor trails. Construction of the 
main building is complete and installation of its exhibits 
is well under way, with the opening scheduled for July 
20, 1996. Designed by Honduran architect Angela 
Stassano, the building is two stories high, broader at the 
second story. A large mound around the base is planted 
with trees native to the area to help the museum blend 
with its mound- and tree-filled surroundings. Natural 
light illuminated the Copan monuments and buildings 
for centuries, and every attempt has been made to use 
natural light within the museum. In addition to sky- 
lights, the museum has a large opening in the center of 

its roof, so that at any given time, the daily and yearly 
movements of the sun will highlight some exhibits 
more clearly than others, just as they do at the archeo- 
logical site. 

The building was planned to reflect the central con- 
cepts of the Maya worldview. The entrance is a stylized 
mouth of a mythical serpent, symbolizing a portal from 
one world to the next. As people proceed through the 
tunnel, they have a sense of entering another place and 
time. The entrance also evokes the tunnels that arche- 
ologists dig to reveal the earher constructions buried 
inside the pyramidal bases of Maya buildings. 

Aligned with the compass points, the four-sided 
building reflects the horizontal ordering of the ancient 
Maya world, to which the four cardinal directions and 
the yearly path of the sun were fundamental. Four was 
the number associated with both the sun god and the 
perimeters of a niilpa, or cornfield. 

In addition to the horizontal directions, the Maya 

envisioned an axis through a center point connecdng 
the human plane to the supernatural worlds above and 
below. This vertical axis is also reflected in the mu- 
seum. Images of deities and denizens of the underworld 
appear on the first floor. These include killer bats, 
skulls and long bones of the dead, portraits ot deceased 
ancestors, and stingray spines. The spines were used in 
rituals by rulers, nobles, and commoners alike to draw 
blood from fleshy parts of their bodies as a sacrificial of- 
fering for gods and ancestors. 

On the second floor, the world of the living is rep- 
resented by pieces from eighteen difterent buildings, 
including seven complete fagades. These illuminate a 
series of important themes in the lives ot Copan's an- 
cient inhabitants: agriculture and fertility, the ballgame 
and natural cycles, mountain deities, ritual sacrifice, 
warfare and the ruler as paramount warrior, links to 
other cities, the role of the scribe, the patron ot sculp- 
tors, the royal residence and shrines, residences ot the 

Juana Lopez grinds 
corn in the l<itchen 
while her husband, 
Arlindo Garcia, holds 
a pet cat. Between 
them is a clay 
griddle for cooking 


Nalucal History 4/96 

Spectators once 
flanked the ball court, 
top photograph. 
Above: Trees invade 
the base of the largest 
temple pyramid. 
Below: The corner of a 
residential structure is 
now displayed in the 
sculpture museum. 

nobility and the role ot nobles in the collapse of the 
king's divine authonts'. and the council house {see 
"Copan's House of Lords," page 30). The second floor 
also presents celestial deities, including sun disks sur- 
rounded by clouds and a throne decorated \vith a sky 
band. The ceUing that frames the opening in the roof is 
decorated with Maya symbols tor the celestial bodies 
and constellations of the night sky. These tricolored 
paintings are based on carvings from Copan. 

The centerpiece of the museum, rising through 

both floors and piercing the open ceiling, is a recon- 

■-truction of an early Classic temple — a terraced, two- 

.iiy buUding dubbed Rosalila (rose-Ulac) by its exca- 

rors. The original, discovered beneath Structure 16 

i the acropolis by Honduran archeologist Ricardo 

•\gurcia. is the most intact structure ever found in 

Copan. A hieroglyphic step carved on its front stairway 

describes it as the work of Copan's tenth ruler, Moon- 

liguar, who reigned from A.D. 553 to 578. Unfortu- 

nately, it is only accessible by narrow tunnels, making it 
impossible to move and very difficult to observe. The 
tuU-scale replica will show it oS"in all its multicolored 
splendor. (When the ancient Maya stopped using the 
original structure, they painted over its modeled plaster 
decorations in white. Careful probes beneath this white 
layer have revealed several levels of paint, each colored 
differently, often with numerous repaintings. The mu- 
seum rephca dupUcates the final color scheme.) 

As a whole, the temple represents a deified moun- 
tain — a place of creation, a source of life-giving water 
(such as a cave, spring, stream, or waterfall), and birth- 
place of the sacred maize plant. The head of this moun- 
tain deity, which combines the attributes of both 
mother and father, is depicted on the lower central part 
of the roof crest, with a cleft in its forehead from which 
maize sprouts. Draped over the sacred mountain images 
and framing the image of a cave in the upper story are 
two-headed celestial dragons. These mythical creatures 
combine attributes of snakes and crocodiles. 

Representations of the sun god adorn the lower 
parts of the temple. The sun's daily journey and the Hfe 
cycle of maize were hnked together in veneration of 
the process of birth, Ufe, death, and rebirth. Some of 
the images of the sun god are humanlike; others show 
him as a mythical bird. With his serpent-shaped wings 
outstretched, the sun as a celestial bird soars in four di- 
rections around the building. On the lowermost 
tacades are seven serpent-winged birds, from whose 
open mouths emerge the head ot the sun god. 

Within the many chambers on both Rosalila's 
ground level and second story, the Maya rulers held rit- 
uals that put them in touch with their universe and 
their ancestors. When the building was closed and cov- 
ered over, in about A.D. 650, a ritual bundle with nine 
elaborately shaped flints, three flint knives, stingray 
spines, and marine animals was deposited on the first 
floor in a smaO room. Other offerings were left in large 
clay vessels in the central room and altar. A portion of 
the lower rooms has been reconstructed in the museum 
rephca so that visitors will be able to see where the of- 
fertory caches were found and will be able to experi- 
ence what a temple was Uke on the inside. 

Two important goals of the museum are to give 
Copan's modern inhabitants greater insight into the 
importance ot the ancient sculpture and to train local 
workers in its conservation and restoration. Like the 
sun on its daily journey, or the maize through its yearly 
cycle, the Maya buUdings and sculptures — and their 
meaning — are being resurrected. The sculptors who 
replicated the rehefs of Rosalila, together with all the 
other participants in the project, have shared the joy of 
renewing their ties to their heritage, and they take 
pride in returning Copan and its artistry to its proper 
place among the world's cultural treasures. 



The Copan acropolis and its surrounding urban 
core and rural settlements lay in a pocket of the Copan 
River valley, whose fertile bottom land attracted agri- 
culturists to the region more than 3,000 years ago. At 
the city's height, about A.D. 800, some 20,000 people 
occupied the Copan pocket, and the urban concentra- 
tion displaced most farming to outlying lands. The city 
was a huge machine at work at the center of a civiliza- 
tion with hieroglyphic writing, an advanced calendar, 
and complex astronomy. The gradual collapse of that 
civilization — as a result of such stresses as overpopula- 
tion, contaminated water sources, political unrest, and 
warfare — is a common theme in the story of human 
life on earth. 

In the modern-day town of Copan Ruinas, people 
speak Spanish, worship the Christian God, and attend 
schools that emphasize history after 1492. They partake 
of many aspects of Western "civilization," such as the 
telephone, electricity, MTV and CNN, and a diet en- 
riched by Old World products. But the inhabitants of 
the town, as well as the poor farming famiUes that eke 
out an existence in the mountains, still carry on many 
ancient Maya traditions. Their love of the Mesoameri- 
can trinity of crops — corn, beans, and squash — is un- 
changed. Corn, prepared in myriad ways, is still the 
diet mainstay of everyone, rich and poor, rural and 
urban. Pom, the incense used by the ancient Maya in 
household and royal ritual, is stiU a prized commodity 
in the local market. 

In rural areas, dwellings are still designed and con- 
structed as they were two millennia ago. Wattle-and- 
daub walls are covered by thatch or palm roofs, and 
each family's compound consists of three or four small 
buildings grouped around a central courtyard. One 
structure serves as the bedroom; another is the kitchen; 
a third serves as a storage room for maize, beans, and 
other goods; and a fourth houses a shrine. Atop the 
shrine is a cross, but even this quintessential Christian 
symbol has pre-Columbian counterparts in the art, 
writing, and cosmology of the ancient Maya. Incense is 
burned on the altar in ceramic censers not unlike those 
found with the ancient altars and shrines. 

Other aspects of traditional culture include beliefs 
in spirits that reside in the mountains and streams, even 
in the ruins of the dynastic center of the Copan acrop- 
ohs. Some of these spirits, which bear Maya and Na- 
huatl (Aztec) names, can be recognized in ceramic and 
stone sculptures recovered in the archeological excava- 
tions. As in more traditional Maya communities else- 
where, the people of Copan take these supernatural 
and ancestral spirits very seriously. They sacrifice 
chickens at house dedication ceremonies and when 
they plant their fields of corn, beans, and squash each 
May. On May 3, the Day of the Cross, a superficially 
Catholic procession goes up to a concrete cross on the 

top of the nearest high mountain, in hopes that the de- 
votion win bring the life-giving rains. 

In years gone by, the more hispanicized, Ladino 
members of the community ridiculed the traditional 
beliefs and life ways of the more humble, Indian seg- 
ments of the population who lived in the rural areas. 
This is beginning to change, as the work in the ruins 
and at the sculpture museum have shown the breath- 
taking works of art and architecture left by the ancient 
inhabitants of the Copan Valley. The work on the 
council house has struck a particularly resonant chord, 
showing as it does that the ruler acted in harmony — or 
at least in consultation — with the representatives ot the 
families who lived outside the dynastic center. In 1 994, 
to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the found- 
ing of the town of Copan Ruinas, the past was made 
present when a rephca of the ancient council house was 
constructed in the courtyard of the modern municipal 
complex. n 

Stela 8 depicts 
Copan's thirteenth 
ruler, considered one 
of the city's greatest 
patrons of the arts. 

ffl TraVel/COpan Natural History 4/96 

A woven motif on its 
fagade identified t/ie 
"mat house," wliere 
the of Copan 
held council. 
Community dances 
were performed on 
the adjacent 
platform, as 
illustrated here. 
Incense braziers and 
large vessels of food 
are offered before an 
image of the jaguar 
sun god, while 
smoke rises from 
cooking fires (left 

Copan's House of Lords 

Beginning in the 1880s, a succession of scholars exca- 
vated and studied the ruins of Copan. But one of the 
public buildings in the acropolis, or civic-ceremonial 
center, stood neglected until recently because of its 
modest size and lack ot visible hieroglyphics. The only 
clue to its nature was a woven motif adorning its east 
side, exposed in 1937 when archeologists worked on a 
more imposing neighbor known as Temple 22. Created 
by patterns of masonry stones in the facade, this motif 
caught my eye because it represented a woven mat, the 
symbol of political authority among the Maya. 

I wondered whether the small building might have 
been the city's "mat house" — popol otot in Cholan, the 
Mayan language spoken in Copan — the council house 
where Maya rulers and noblemen convened, seated on 
mats of woven reeds. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-cen- 
tury historical records — notably the Lihros del Cliilaiii 

Balani (books of the jaguar priest), colonial Maya ac- 
counts of sacred history and religion — tell us that 
among the most common titles for royalty and other 
noble rulers were Lord of the Mat or Lord ot the Jaguar 
Mat. The interwoven pattern may have symbolized 
both the unity that the elite provided for the kingdom 
and the interconnected nature of the universe. 

Located in the southern lowland Maya region in 
what IS now Honduras, the kingdom of Copan col- 
lapsed long before the Spaniards arrived, but conquista- 
dors observed that council houses played a central role 
in Maya communities in the northern lowlands, where 
Yucatec-speaking Maya called them popol na. Diction- 
aries and documents from the seventeenth and eight- 
eenth centuries also mention council houses in con- 
nection with other Maya peoples. For each, the mat 
house was where the ruler met with the people's repre- 
sentatives, who bore the title of liolpop (he at the head 
of the mat). 


The early documentary evidence suggests that 
council members were chosen from the important pa- 
trilineages and may have held office for a specific term 
(five years would have been a likely calendrical interval) 
before stepping down. The early sources also tell us that 
mat houses were places where the Maya staged pubhc 
festivals and learned community dances. Some living 
Maya still use mat houses. Epigraphist Nikolai Grube 
says that not long ago, he witnessed town festivals at 
popol nas — complete with feasts and dancing — in tradi- 
tional rural communities in Quintana Roc, Mexico. 

Beginning in 1988, the Copan Acropolis Archaeo- 
logical Project, in which I participate as artist and 
sculpture coordinator, set out to completely excavate 
the building whose woven motif made it a candidate 
for the ancient city's council house. Except for the east 
wall, which had previously been uncovered, little was 
exposed on the surface of the site. All but a few feet of 
the walls had collapsed. As we dug through the debris 
of building stones and mortar, we uncovered nearly 
one thousand pieces of sculpted stone, most lying ex- 
actly where they had fallen in antiquity. Based on their 
positions, I was able to reconstruct — on paper — the ar- 
chitectural and sculptural elements of all four facades, 
revealing that this had been a small but elegant edifice. 

In keeping with a public function, the building had 
an open front, facing south, with three large entrance- 
ways. The archeological team cleared parts of a twenty- 
six- by ninety-eight-foot platform in front of the build- 
ing and found that it had been replastered several times, 
probably to maintain a smooth surface. The absence of 
wall lines or artifacts suggests that it could have served 
as a dance platform. A large deposit of refuse, just off 
the southwest corner of the building, contained pot- 
tery, stone tools, charcoal fragments, ash, and stone in- 
cense burners — probably the remains of a feast. 

The mat design — repeated three times on the front 
and back of the building and twice on the two shorter 
sides — was the most prominent decorative motif on the 
fagades and confirmed the building's function as the 
king's council house. The significance of the mat motif 
would have been easily apparent to ancient Maya. They 
would have also been able to decipher a hieroglyphic 
motif, repeated around the cornice, that would have 
been read phonetically. The meaning in Cholan Mayan 
was never recorded, but an early Yucatec Mayan dictio- 
nary contains a corresponding expression, sac iiic te'il 
na, literally "white flower house," but translated as 
"community house." 

In addition, at least twelve hieroglyphic medallions 
were installed in pairs all around the facade. The 
medallions read "nine Ahaw" and exemplifs' the Maya's 
fondness for a pun, telling us both that the building was 
"the house of the nine ahaw [lords]" — apparently there 
were nine holpops — and that it was built on "9 

Ahaw" — the dedication day of the building. The 
glyphs do not specify the year in which the building 
was dedicated, but the event would typically have been 
at the end of a five-year cycle in the Maya calendar. 
Only three dates in the late Classic period fit this cycle 
and had the day name 9 Ahaw: they fall in the years 
A.D. 682, 746, and 810. The archeological stratigraphy 
of the buildings nearby, taken together with epigraphist 
David Stuart's decipherment of a date for Temple 22, 
shows that the first possibihty is too early, and the style 
of the sculpture and other architectural details of the 
mat house make the third extremely unlikely. The ded- 
ication was therefore most likely held on June 12, 746. 
Also around the facade were nine niches, each con- 
taining a human figure seated above a large hieroglyph. 
Two were on the front of the house, two on the back, 
one on the west side, and one on each corner. (The east 
wall had neither glyphs nor figures, no doubt because 
that side of the building was obscured by its immense 
neighbor. Temple 22.) These nine figures, each with a 
distinctive headdress and necklace or pectoral insignia, 
probably represent the holpops. Featured on the decora- 

Ancient Copan | 

Secondary Centers \^ • 

1 Miles 

tive conib on top of the building is the king, seated 
above all on the jaguar mat. 

Epigraphists David Stuart, Linda Scheie, Stephen 
Houston, and Nikolai Grube believe that the large hi- 
eroglyphs beneath the nine councilors are place names. 
Some are also found in classic Maya texts from other 
sites, suggesting they derive from a conmion mythol- 
ogy. They may have referred to wards within Copan, or 
their leading lineages, and also to the ceremonial 
dances for which each group was responsible. One of 
the names is represented by a fish glyph. Recently, 
while excavating a royal family residence south of the 
acropolis, E. Wyllys Andrews V, of Tulane University', 
discovered a series of similar fish sculptures fallen from 
the facades. This may indicate that it was one of the 
named places represented by a holpopi. Archeologists are 
now on the lookout in the valley settlements for any 
distinctive hieroglyphs or portraits that may signal the 
residences of the other holpops. — B IV F. 

While the palaces of 
Copan's royalty and 
other nobility were 
concentrated in an 
urban zone near the 
acropolis (the civic- 
ceremonial center), 
archeologists have 
identified a number 
of secondary 
residential centers 
within the valley. 

TraVei/CoiOiadO Natural History 4/96 

In Telluride, Colorado, fungus fanciers gather 
annually to celebrate the fruits of the earth 

Text by Gary Lincoff 
Photographs by Chip Simons 

Every year, on the Saturday before Labor Day, some 
200 celebrants gather in Telluride, a small resort town 
high in southwestern Colorado's San Juan Mountains. 
Several dozen weekend \'isitors — adults and children — 
parade the length of Main Street in homemade mush- 
room costumes. Accompanied by a percussion band, 
marchers dressed as king boletes and fly agarics, 
shagg)Tnanes, and chanterelles strut their stufl' for an 
enthusiastic audience of fiingus fanciers. After the pa- 
rade, the revelers gather for a "dance of the mush- 
rooms," followed by an eagerly awaited feast. Thou- 
sands of mushrooms, which they have collected since 
Thursday, will be prepared by expert volunteer chefs. 

This event has evolved out of earher (and more 
staid) mushroom conferences and has been known 
since 1981 as the Telluride Mushroom Festival. Devel- 
oped and nurtured by Emanuel Salzman, a Denver 
phvsician, it has become a magnet for collectors, who 
come here from all over the countrs". The festival offers 
informal classes on mushroom identification, the diag- 
nosis and treatment of mushroom poisoning, mush- 
room cultivation, mushrooms as medicine, and the law 
pertaining to psychoactive mushrooms. Participants in- 
clude doctors, cooks, artists, computer programmers, 
and elementary school teachers — anyone who has a 
passion for mushrooms. 

Telluride, a former gold-mining town 7,500 teet 
above sea level, is surrounded by forested mountain 
slopes; several nearby peaks reach 14,000 feet. For 
mushroom hunters, the local treasure is now the 
chanterelle. Collecting can be done in town, where 
lawn mushrooms come up daily after showers, but the 
nearby spruce woods are much better. In eastern North 
America, morels are found m the spring, chanterelles in 
the summer, and king boletes in the fall; but in the Tel- 
luride area, all mushrooms seem to fruit at the same 
time: late August. The late summer is also when many 
vacationers escape the heat and cro^vds of their home 
cities and head for Telluride, with its svmny days and 
cool nights, almost daily rains, and forested mountains. 
A mushroom collector could find more diversity' 
vdchin an hour's drive of New York Cit\; because the 
ea5,teni woodlands boast a far greater varietv' of trees 
and habitats than the western mountains. But what Tel- 
luride s mushrooms lack in diversity', they make up tor 
in abundance. Here one sees hillsides carpeted with 
golden chanterelles {CanthareUus cibarius). Their egg- 
yolk-yeUow color; thick-edged, forked folds under 
waw-margined caps; short stems: and sweet, dried 

The Telluride festival's king and queen dressed as mushrooms 

A celebrant wears a bracket fungus mask A shaggymane mushroom costume 

apricotlike odor make them unmistakable. Although 
much smaller than the chanterelles found along both 
continental coasts, these seem to shine like gold 
nuggets under the Engelmann spruce trees. 

King boletes can be found simply by driving along 
the unpaved roads watching for splotches of bright red 
wherever mountain meadows meet spruce woods. 
These red mushrooms are fly agarics {Amanita muscaria), 
an indicator species whose white-spotted, bright red 
caps are illustrated in many children's books. Wherever 
fly agarics are found, usually near Engelmann spruce 
trees, king boletes wiU not be far away. The dark, red- 
dish brown, bunlike caps of the boletes are difficult to 
spot but, once located, often can be gathered in abun- 
dance. One can fill a car trunk in an hour's collecting. 
Curiously, while there are well over a hundred diflerent 
kinds of boletes (also known as sponge mushrooms be- 
cause of their spongy undersides) on each coast, most 
are mediocre fare. But the king is prized by collectors 
for its excellent taste. Telluride's best specimens are 
found in the high mountains, where they are numerous 
and usually free of bugs. 

Fly agarics and king boletes are mycorrhizal fungi, 
a group that develops a symbiotic relationship with hv- 
ing plant species. Their thousands of subterranean 
threads, or vegetative bodies, form nets over the root 
ends of certain trees, extending the trees' capacity to 
absorb soil nutrients. At the same time, these filament 
nets block viruses and pathogenic bacteria, providing a 
kind of external immune system for the trees. Under- 
ground filaments may extend for many yards, and their 
fruiting bodies, or mushrooms, grow above ground 
near the trees — sometimes as much as forty feet from 
the base of the trunk. 

This connection between mycorrhizal mushrooms 
and evergreen trees is what brings mushroom hunters 
to places like Telluride, with its healthy coniferous 
forests. While most plants host microscopic tungi inside 
their roots (an endomycorrhizal relationship), the pine 
family's root systems, and those of some hardwood 
trees, are wrapped in the external fringal nets (an ecto- 
mycorrhizal relationship). A mushroom hunter, there- 
fore, seeks out pine, spruce, fir, Douglas fir, hemlock, 
and larch, and such hardwoods as vaOows, poplars, 
birch, beech, and oak. More than 5,000 diflerent kinds 
of mushrooms are believed to be ectomycorrhizal with 
these trees. Some of the most sought-after wild edibles, 
such as the chanterelles and the king boletes. cannot 
live without their host trees. 

On Friday morning, the first full day of the tesrival, 
collectors pile into a dozen cars while it is still dark and 
chilly and head for dirt roads high above Telluride. 
People scatter into the dark spruce woods, their eyes 
adjusring to the dim dawn light. Suddenly, mushrooms 
appear as if out of nowhere. First you spot one, then 


Natural History 4/< 

another, and soon, in a good year, you begin to see 
mushrooms everywhere. Sometimes a shaft of sunlight 
will pierce the canopy and shine directly down on a 
mushroom. A white-spotted, shiny red cap of a fly 
agaric, illuminated m the dim woods, is a delightful 

Within an hour or so everyone gathers back at the 
cars — many with baskets full of mushrooms, some with 
just a few choice items — and the caravan returns to 
town. The mushrooms are put out for display, and the 
morning lectures and workshops begin. By noon, 
people gather for the afternoon forays. Five to ten cars 
take off in various directions. One group explores a 
nearby aspen grove, hunting for such edibles as stalk 
boletes, for the wild form of the commercial enoki 
mushroom, and for the bright yellow, scaly Flocaihria. 
Another group walks around a wooded lake looking 
for choice oyster mushrooms, honey mushrooms, and 
young shaggymanes. One carload of determined 
hunters goes off to search Douglas fir stands on north- 
ern slopes and Ponderosa pine stands on southern 
slopes, in hopes of finding a few fruiting bodies of the 
elusive, spicy matsutake. (In Japan, matsutakes sell for 
more than $100 per mushroom!) The main contingent 
of collectors, however, heads for Lizard Head, a slope 
with densely packed Engelmann spruce trees about 
twenty minutes from town. At Lizard Head the group 
divides: some scout the lower reaches, looking for coral 
and tooth fungi and the sweet, anise-scented Agariais, 
while others mount the steeper hillsides in search of 
chanterelles and king boletes. Whether they take the 
high road or the low, children always find a wealth ot 
mushrooms overlooked by their parents; they move 
faster, are closer to the ground, and miss nothing. 

Of the 500 or so mushroom species in these woods, 
only a few dozen are collected for food. Most are taken 
for identification, photography, and display. Except for 
the chanterelles and the king boletes, which are col- 
lected in quantity the woods look pretty much the 
same after the mushroomers have gone; with the after- 
noon rains, thousands of new mushrooms pop up. Al- 
though potential harm from overharvesting is a hot 
topic at the festival, there is no evidence of damage to 
Telluride's ecosystem. (Even in continental Europe, 
where mushroon:i picking has been well established for